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UP Lady Maroons enter Finals off explosive fifth inning

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UP 7-5 (PS: 2-1), 2nd00036982
UST 7-5 (PS: 2-2), 3rd01000131

 
And they are back.

The University of the Philippines (UP) Lady Maroons walloped the University of Santo Tomas (UST) Tigresses in the fourth and fifth innings to clinch the second Finals slot, 9-1, on Sunday, March 22 at the Rizal Memorial Baseball Stadium.

Both teams stood their ground on defense early on, as seen throughout the season. The España-based batters dismissed the entire batting order in the first three innings. UST starting pitcher Ann Antolihao displayed her superb skills when she fanned UP co-captain Sella Mendoza in the second, and her opposite number Cochise Diolata in the third. The sophomore also held the Maroons to no hits in the same span.

The third seeds started well in the bottom of the second with lead-off single from rookie catcher Celestine Palma. UP then retired the next two batters. Leading Best Hitter candidate, CJ Roa, made a solid hit, but Maroon shortstop Lily Gonzales caught the fly for the first out. Diolata caught Mallows Garde’s line drive for the next out. Antolihao connected to the right-center, and MJ Abanes retrieved the ball. However, the newbie Maroon failed to throw it in time, which led Antolihao to advance.

Sophomore Shiela Perales had another single and Palma managed to score for UST, thus putting them into the scoreboard, 1-0. With two outs, UST was unable to add to their score, as Arlyn Areglado grounded to Gonzales in the ensuing play and the veteran UP standout threw to second to get Perales for the final out.

In the top of the third inning, UP did its work on defense. It began with Diolata, who dismissed Hannah De La Torre early on. Kristine Lacupa and Sharmaine Oria failed to reach base, as Abanes and Mendoza retired the batters.

The second-seeded Maroons, who sensed the need to pick up the pace, strengthened their own offense at top of the fourth inning. After veteran batter Gabin Paz tested the UST outfield but was dismissed, newbie Gelai Penales connected to the right foul line for UP’s first hit. DC Cruz hit the ball to the same area for a ground-rule double. With runners on scoring positions, Dennise Cruz stepped to the plate. Thomasian Antolihao worked her pitches, but the junior first baseman Cruz fought to put the pitch count to full. This led Cruz to advance bases on balls.

While bases were loaded, UP veteran Mendoza connected to deep center-right, which was handled well by Perales. However, in the ensuing play, Penales crossed the plate that led UP to tie the game at one apiece. Sophomore hard-hitter Chanty Bongat hit a solid drive to the center-right for a double to score the Cruz twins, and the Maroons took the lead, 3-1. UST ended the onslaught as they caught Bongat stealing second off a Diolata at bat.

At the bottom of the fourth inning, Tigresses’ lead-off batter Celestine Palma connected to the left foul line, but was caught by UP third baseman DC Cruz, which put Palma out off a throw to Dennise Cruz. Roa would not be denied, however, for she hit a single to the center. Maroons second baseman Abanes made another error as she was not able to get a grounder, thus advanced Garde to first base. Diolata took the second out when she struck out Antolihao swinging. Perales hit a grounder to Abanes, and the UP rookie bounced back from her previous miscue to get the ball and the final out.

In the next inning, UST retired Maroons lead-off batter Diolata off a grounder to the pitcher. Veteran shortstop Gonzales, however, connected to deep left-center to start of what would be UP’s explosive roll. Graduating captain Seiko Hashimoto, who is batting for Abanes, hit the ball to the same area. UST then caught Gonzales stealing third for the first out, while Hashimoto advanced on second.

A two-out rally ensued when Paz connected to the left field. UST leftfielder was able to catch the ball but did not throw it on time, thus enabled Paz to reach second base. Hashimoto scored on the play to add to UP’s lead, 4-1. UST coach Sandy Barredo tried to halt UP scoring spree by putting Ricky Mae Latican on the mound. The change was ineffective as Penales had a booming triple to the deep right to score Paz, 5-1.

Antolihao was called back to resume her stint as pitcher but UP continued their momentum. DC Cruz drove the ball to the right this time, and Penales reached home base. Dennise Cruz connected with a single to the right again to advance her twin DC to second. With Mendoza at bat, Antolihao threw a pitch, and Palma was not able to block the ball. The passed ball was costly, as the Cruz sisters moved to scoring position.

Mendoza, who has made known of her intentions on skipping her final year, made sure that it will not be her last UAAP game. The fourth-year centerfielder took the broken Antolihao’s first pitch and connected to the left. UST leftfielder and soon-Most HR-awardee Roa tried to catch the fly but instead, dislodged the fence. Mendoza was awarded a homerun to blow the game open, alongside the Cruz twins and Mendoza, who scored as well. UP mounted a 9-1 lead. Bongat hit to deep left for a double as the Maroons tried to keep the two-out rally going. UST changed pitcher and Garde took the mound. The veteran pitcher ended the agony when she struck out Diolata.

With the Finals ticket just three outs away, UP went all out on the defensive end in the fifth. The Maroons veteran infielders took the matter into their own hands. Arlyn Areglado grounded out to Gonzales off a throw to Dennise Cruz. DC Cruz caught a booming line drive by substitute Kristel Angeles. The third baseman DC got the final out off a throw to her sister Dennise when they retired Lacupa. The throw booked UP’s return trip to the Finals.

After placing fifth in last season’s tournament, the Lady Maroons are now headed to the Finals. When asked about the main difference between last year’s squad and its present roster, UP Head Coach Kiko Diaz told us that first and foremost the recruitment of Cochise Diolata was the turning point for the lady batters from Diliman. “We were fortunate have a prized recruit, yung pitcher namin [Diolata],” Coach Diaz told us. “Then came the hard work, the diligence, persistence of everyone in the team. It was a total team effort.”

The UP Lady Maroons ended the first round at fourth place with a 3-5 win loss record. Then the turnaround for the squad came when Dennise Cruz returned to the line-up to start the latter half of the elimination round. “Malaking bagay. What we gained was number one: she’s a good hitter, number two: she’s a great defender, and finally: she’s one of our seniors. Well, taking into account that the seniors were leading well in the start, but it’s a welcome addition to add one more leader in the team.” Moreover, with the arrival of sports psychologist Marcus Manalo, the team was able to cope with the grind of the season. “We learned from Marcus, how to cope with the ups-and-downs of the season. It helped in the development of the team.”

In facing a tough test in the last stage of the UAAP Softball Stepladder, Coach Diaz and the Lady Maroons know that they’re up against a different animal. “It’s different. We can’t be at par with them, we must play at a higher level to beat Adamson,” the humble coach concluded.

The UP Lady Maroons will face the 60-0 Adamson Lady Falcons on Tuesday, March 24 in Game 1 of the Stepladder Finals at 9:00am. Game will be played at the Rizal Memorial Baseball Stadium.

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Grew to appreciate various sports from tennis to judo. True-maroon kiddo since the new millennium. Fanboy. Singer. Occasional sports writer.

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