In what was seen as a potential Finals preview, the Cagayan Valley Rising Suns edged out the PLDT Home Ultera Ultra Fast Hitters in five thrilling sets 25-20, 26-24, 12-25, 22-25, 15-10, in the first round of eliminations of the inaugural season of the Spiker’s Turf at the San Juan Arena.
Ateneo Middle Hitter Rex Intal led Cagayan’s offensive stronghold with 17 points off nine attacks, seven blocks, and an ace. His college teammate Marck Espejo and former NU Bulldog Peter Torres both pitched in 15 points while open hitter Berlin Paglinawan added 14 markers.
Both teams exchanged service errors to kick off the match. A 6-3 PLDT advantage was quickly erased when Berlin Paglinawan drove home a block then an ace to tie the set at six. Cagayan broke out of the stalemate after a 4-0 run vaulted them permanently into the lead 15-10. Espejo, Torres, and Intal took turns bashing away at PLDT’s defense, bringing Cagayan to their first set win.
One of PLDT’s contingent of former UST Tigers, Mark Alfafara, scored four early points in the second set to give the Ultra Fast Hitters an 8-2 lead. PLDT managed their six-point advantage until late into the second frame 17-11. From there, a Cagayan volley ensued as Marck Espejo drove home two aces in a 5-0 Rising Suns run that placed them at 17-18, a prime position to takeover. Two Cagayan errors and a Jayson Ramos quick attack momentarily vaulted PLDT back on top, 21-17. However, Cagayan quickly countered as a Peter Torres block on JP Torres followed by a Rex Intal back quick attack, brought them within one, 21-22. A Cagayan attack error preceded a Kheeno Franco combination play that gave PLDT the first taste of set point 24-22. However, PLDT promptly relinquished the advantage as Cagayan rattled off four consecutive points highlighted by Marck Espejo block. A Henry Pecaña attack error gave Cagayan the second set.
Cagayan’s attacking efficiency fell off a cliff in the following set as they gave up seven attack errors in the third frame alone. PLDT also reshuffled their lineup in the set, opting to start former Adamson Falcon, Ron Jay Galang, over the struggling John Paul Torres while Benilde’s John Vic De Guzman replaced Henry Pecaña. Galang and De Guzman combined for seven points in the set PLDT took rather handily.
PLDT took much of their built momentum from the previous set early into the fourth canto as the Ultra Fast Hitters established a 7-3 advantage. Peter Torres unfurled three points in a Cagayan run that tied the set at 10. The teams then played hot potato with the lead until PLDT buckled down and gave most of the sets to De Guzman who dropped three points in a late run that buoyed them into the lead 23-22. De Guzman powered an attack down the line then Peter Torres sent his running attempt wide, sending the match into a deciding set.
Four early attack errors from PLDT severely hampered their fifth set campaign as they fell behind 7-1. Peter Torres and Rex Intal converged for eight of Cagayan’s points in the final set the Rising Suns remain perched at the top of the standings with a 3-0 slate.
John Vic De Guzman led PLDT with 18 points while Mark Alfafara trailed him with 16 markers. PLDT is now tied with Army at second place with a 2-1 record.
When asked whether he was shocked of his teams sudden falloff in the third and fourth set, Cagayan Coach Nes Pamilar admitted that he wasn’t troubled by it. “Malakas ‘din naman ‘yung kalaban. Nakarecover naman kaya ayos lang.”
Cagayan stakes it undefeated record when it faces Air Force on April 16 while PLDT’s bounce back attempt will come against the the Army Troopers on April 21.
Cagayan (3) – Intal 17, Espejo 15, Torres 15, Paglinawan 14, Pirante 8, Santos 3, Canlas 2, Zamora 1, Gatdula 0, Ramos (L)
PLDT (2) – De Guzman 18, Alfafara 16, Franco 11, Galang 9, Ramos 9, Pecaña 3, Mangulabnan 2, Mojica 1, Longavela (L)