Capitalizing on lessons learned from their previous matches, the PLDT Ultra Fast Hitters put on a masterful performance in their four-set victory over the heavily lauded Cagayan Valley Rising Sun 25-22, 21-25, 25-23, 25-12 in Game One of the Spikers’ Turf Finals at the FilOil Flying-V Arena.
One of the many Thomasians on the PLDT roster, Mark Alfafara spearheaded the PLDT offense with 18 points. Benilde’s John Vic De Guzman paced the PLDT attack with 13 markers while his fellow NCAA star Howard Mojica and EARIST’s Kheeno Franco each contributed 11 points.
The first two sets were tight from wire-to-wire. PLDT only managed to breakout by winning the five of the last seven points of the first and ditto for Cagayan who won five of the last six points of the second set to tie the match at a set apiece. The third set proved pivotal as both teams refused to let go of the lead. With the third frame tied at 23, Cagayan surrendered consecutive errors that gave that 2-1 sets lead to PLDT.
The Rising Suns had all the air taken out of them in the fourth set as the grind of the previous set visibly took a toll on them. PLDT’s depth came in handy in their clinching set, fielding in Henry James Pecaña and Ronald Casillan to give their starters, John Vic De Guzman and Vince Mangulabnan short rests at the start of the set. PLDT blasted through Cagayan, growing their lead to as much as 15 to close out the match.
After the match, PLDT head coach, Odjie Mamon gushed about his team’s mastery of Cagayan. “Marami kaming ginawa sa training na specifically for the way Cagayan plays. Though ‘di na-excute kanine from the start, I’m happy to see na naexe-cute namin ‘yung gameplan noong dulo,” said the UST mentor.
After dominating their competition for much of the tournament, Cagayan has now given up two consecutive games to PLDT including their second elimination round matchup last Thursday. Two-time UAAP MVP, Marck Jesus Espejo topped the Cagayan scoring list again with 18 markers, but was uncharacteristically inefficient with his attacks, scoring on 15 of his 36 attempts with six attack errors. Peter Torres had an efficient 15-point outing but was momentarily shaken from his usually cool demeanor in a heated exchange of taunts with John Vic De Guzman. The scuffle resulted in Torres earning his first yellow card of the tournament.
Game Two of the Finals will take place on Tuesday, 4 p.m. at the FilOil Flying-V Arena. The Air Force Airmen will also try to sweep their bronze medal series with the Cignal HD Spikers on the same day and venue at 2 p.m.
PLDT (3) – Alfafara 18, De Guzman 13. Mojica 11, Franco 11, Ramos 9, Pecaña 4, Mangulabnan 2, Casillan 1, Longavela (L)
Cagayan (1) – Espejo 18, Torres 15, Paglinawan 11, Intal 9, Pirante 5, Zamora 2, Gatdula 0, Santos 0, Ramos (L), Dizon (L)