De La Salle University, the UAAP queen, flaunted its championship pedigree, holding off the University of Santo Tomas with a 22-25, 25-18, 14-25, 26-24, 26-24 come-from-behind win in the 2023 Shakey’s Super League (SSL) National Invitationals finals on Friday at the Filoil EcoOil Centre in San Juan.
The Lady Spikers saved match points one after another in the fourth and fifth sets to complete the epic come-from-behind win and set up a best-of-three finale against Adamson. Adamson had drubbed the University of Perpetual Help System Dalta in straight sets in the other semifinals pairing.
La Salle erased a 21-24 deficit in the fourth set with a 5-0 closeout to force a rubber match, where they saved seven more match points for a thrilling victory in two hours and 23 minutes.
A crosscourt kill by Alleiah Malaluan, following a single block from Thea Gagate, ended it for La Salle in the nip-and-tuck clincher that stretched all the way to a regular set from a supposedly race-to-15 duel.
Malaluan, who returned from a minor knee injury that limited her action in UAAP Season 85, rediscovered her fine form with 25 points on 20 hits and five aces to lead La Salle’s slim win.
Shevana Laput joined the barrage with 23 points, and Gagate added 14 points for La Salle, which now has a golden chance to become the first SSL national champion after dominating the UAAP with a near-perfect run of 16 matches.
Coincidentally, La Salle’s lone UAAP loss was against UST, setting the stage for another all-out war in the SSL.
“Tulad ng sabi ko, ibang labanan na dito sa semis. Sabi ko lang sa kanila na kailangan ilabas ‘yung A-game nila,” said La Salle deputy mentor Noel Orcullo. “Mukhang na-pressure kasi masyadong excited na ilabas ‘yung A-game. Mostly errors, lalo na sa service. Pinaalala lang namin sa kanila na ipakita nyo kung sino kayo.”
Earlier, Adamson University needed only 76 minutes for a 25-19, 25-21, 25-16 win to halt a University of Perpetual Help System DALTA team on a high momentum after eliminating two-time NCAA champion College of St. Benilde in the quarterfinals.
Four players racked up double digits, led by Ayesha Juegos with 29 points, as Adamson arranged a duel against the winner between La Salle and the University of Santo Tomas, who were still clashing as of press time, in the best-of-three finals next week.
Rochelle Lalongisip scored 21 points, while Lucille Almonte and Lorene Toring added 15 and 10 points, respectively, for yet another sweep of Adamson in the 12-team SSL presented by Eurotel as the official hotel and Victory Liner as the office transport provider, in cooperation with the Commission on Higher Education (CHED).
“Unang-una, sabi ko nga with God’s will, makakaakyat kami ng finals. Ito na ‘yun, binigay na sa amin. Kailangang paghandaan namin ‘yung finals,” said first-year coach JP Yude as Adamson, albeit with a young squad, reached another milestone after a UAAP bronze medal finish.
Angeline Poyos exploded for 29 points, while Regina Jurado had 25 in a foiled cause for UST, which will try to claim the next possible prize with a bronze medal match, also in a best-of-three format, against Perpetual.
Shaila Omipon, Razel Paula Aldea, and Charmaine Ocado scored 17, 16, and 14 points, respectively, for Perpetual, while NCAA MVP Mary Rhose Dapol settled for only nine points after exploding for 33 in the historic win against St. Benilde.