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Bulldogs survive second UST do-or-die showdown, set Finals rematch with Ateneo

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The NU Bulldogs booked their third straight Finals appearance, as the defending champs overwhelmed the UST Tigers for the second time in four days, with a straight-set beating 25-18, 25-23, 25-23 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

With the exception of the first set, each frame was close with both teams refusing to give each other prolonged leg room, but UST’s 22 errors hung on them as NU had only nine unforced errors.

The Bulldogs jump out to an early lead 7-1 at the onset of the match as their precise blocking stifled UST’s attackers. Graduating open spiker, Edwin Tolentino, twisted the knife in the Tiger’s stomach as he dished out three consecutive attacks, balooning NU’s lead to 13-3. From there, UST Team captain, Romnick Rico, kept his team afloat by drilling in five points to keep the margin at a manageable 10-16. UST spikers seemed to have figured out NU’s blocking scheme, but shot themselves in the foot with three consecutive service errors midway through the set. NU Middle Blocker, Peter Torres, and Open Spiker, Berlin Paglinawan, did a magnificent job closing out the set, shutting down UST’s best offensive options. UST leading scorer, Mark Alfafara, managed six points in the set, but could not lift his team past NU’s stingy defense.

The Tiger offense continued to stall in the opening moments of the second frame as their weak attacks opened the door for NU to deliver five of their signature combination plays leading to an 8-4 NU advantage. Consecutive blocks from UST setter, Kerby Castillo, followed by two NU attack errors and a Rico ace tied the match at 9-9. From there, Mark Alfafara sparked a run of his own, nabbing three attacks and two blocks, pushing the Tigers ahead, 16-12. UST protected their lead up until the point where they led 20-16. UST’s offensive storm ceased from there, giving up multiple attack errors. Peter Torres soared like a fighter plane across the net, and dropped bombs on UST’s defense with three picture perfect running attacks. Torres’ flurry pulled NU to a 22-21 lead. NU won the set with their tremendous blocking that lead to multiple UST attack errors, bringing NU one set closer to their third consecutive Finals appearance.

The Bulldogs, once again, jumped out to an early 9-6 lead as the Tiger’s error problem continued to plague them. Former UAAP Beach Volleyball MVP, Edwin Tolentino led the Bulldog’s attack with timely open hits and impervious blocking, leading to a 16-12 advantage for NU. NU then gave up consecutive errors of their own, opening the door for UST to tie the match at 20. Tolentino quelled UST’s advances from there, while Tiger veterans, Romnick Rico and Mark Alfafara surrendered critical errors down the stretch, ending their team’s season.

NU’s graduating core powered them to their biggest win of the season as four players turned in double-digit performances. Peter Torres dished out 13 markers, team captain, Ben Inaudito, and Edwin Tolentino each pitched in 12 points, while Berlin Paglinawan was a steady presence in crucial momments, finishing with 11 markers.

UST’s leading scorers and only graduating players, Romnick Rico and Mark Alfafara, gave their all the entire match, but NU’s defense had their number. Alfafara put in a game-high 17 points, while Rico had 14 to pace the Tigers. UST had a problem the entire match with their setter, shuffling between veteran, Paul Castillo, and rookie, Timothy Tajanlangit, causing their offense to stall out for stretches of the match.

“Buti na lang lumabas na ‘yung tunay na laban namin. Noong second round medyo down ‘yung laro namin. Mataas na confidence level ng mga bata ngayon,” said NU Coach, Dante Alinsunurin.

NU will now face the Ateneo Blue Eagles on Wednesday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum for Game 1 of the Finals. NU took care of the Eagles in two games during last season’s Finals.

The Scores

NU – Torres 13, Tolentino 12, Inaudito 12, Paglinawan 11, Baysac 5, Ismail 0, Tipay (L)

UST – Alfafara 17, Rico 14, Balse 8, Sarabia 7, Bautista 4, Castillo 2, Tajanlangit 1, Buro 1, Guzman 1, Pangan (L)

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Miguel Luis Flores fell face first into sports writing in high sch9l and has never gotten up. He reluctantly stumbled into the volleyball beat when he started with Tiebreaker Times three years ago. Now, he has waded through everything volleyball - from its icky politics to the post-modern art that is Jia Morado's setting.

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