With the PLDT Home Ultera Ultra Fast Hitters standing firm in the Shakey’s V-League Open Conference Finals, PLDT struggled early but managed to salvage their undefeated record after staving off the upset-hungry Meralco Power Spikers in five sets, 22-25, 25-15, 21-25, 25-16, 18-16 at the FilOil Flying-V Arena.
PLDT’s main scoring option, Alyssa Valdez didn’t participate in the match until late in the first set as she was still nursing a few illnesses. Still, the two-time MVP topped all scorers with 23 points off 21 attacks, a block, and an ace. NU’s Jaja Santiago paced the PLDT offense with 19 points off 16 attacks, two blocks, and an ace while San Sebastian’s Gretchel Soltones pitched in 12 markers and a game-high five blocks in just four sets of action.
Meralco had their best outings this season against PLDT as their elimination round matchup also took five sets with them ahead 2-1 in sets before PLDT fired back and took the match late. Exactly similar to their first match, La Salle’s Abigail Maraño had a splendid outing and led her team with 19 markers that included four blocks and two aces. Maraño played a huge role in the final set of the match, stopping multiple Alyssa Valdez rockets from crossing the net. But Meralco struggled mightily to generate offense and to defend PLDT’s attacks when she rotated to the back row leading to her team committing predictable attacks in the final stretch of the match.
Former UAAP MVP, Maica Morada, did her best in taking some of the offensive load as the open spiker finished the match with 14 markers. She was the lone outside hitter that was able to produce consistently throughout the match. Meralco’s usually explosive La Salle duo of Paneng Mercado and Cha Cruz were uncharacteristically spark-less. Neither had double-digit performances with Paneng producing seven points while Cruz had just nine markers. Cruz also had crucial attack errors in the fifth set deuce that allowed PLDT to steal the match.
PLDT already qualified for the Finals with their win over Army last Sunday. According to PLDT head coach, Roger Gorayeb, today’s match was all about his team’s pride in retaining their undefeated slate.
“Nung fourth set lamang ‘yung Meralco, 16-14, sabi ko sa team, ‘Ano ipapanalo ba natin to?’ Oo daw kaya napatayo na ako. Nung unang apat na set ‘di naman ako tumayo kasi no bearing game na talaga, qualified na kami sa Finals regardless of what happens. Sa dugout pa lang, tinanong ko na ‘yung team kung gusto ba nila manalo o rest na lang sila. Ang dami kasing commitments ng team, halos thrice a day na nagpapractice ‘yung iba sa amin. Pero ayos lang. Wala namang pressure sa amin ‘yung tournament. Kung manalo magpapasalamat kami. Kung matalo, thank you pa ‘rin,” Coach Gorayeb quipped.
Meralco failed to win a single match in the second elimination phase. They were also winless against their fellow top four teams, Army, Cagayan, and PLDT. The Power Spikers still have a chance at redemption as they will battle the Cagayan Valley Rising Suns for third place in a best-of-three series starting on Thursday at 2 p.m. Game One of the Finals between PLDT and Army happens on the same day at 4 p.m.
PLDT (3) – Valdez 23, Santiago 19, Soltones 12, Roces 8, Mendiola 5, Latigay 4, Kasilag 0, Ferrer 0, Villanueva 0, Pantone (L), Lazaro (L)
Meralco (2) – Maraño 19, Morada 14, Cruz 9, Mercado 7, Angsutia 6, Guevara 4, Cayetano 3, Legacion 2, Tiu 1, Hingpit 0, Reyes (L)