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PLDT saves undefeated record with late flurry over Meralco

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Recovering from an unusually slow start to the match, the PLDT Home Ultera Ultra Fast Hitters got their act together in time to turn back the Meralco Power Spikers in five thrilling sets 25-23, 23-25, 19-25, 25-12, 15-11, in the elimination round of the Shakey’s V-League Open Conference at the San Juan Arena.

The first set started off well for PLDT until late errors allowed Meralco to creep back in and almost steal the set. UAAP MVP, Alyssa Valdez, scored three of PLDT’s first seven points, propelling the Ultra Fast Hitters to a 7-3 lead. However, two Maica Morada service aces capped a 3-0 Meralco scoring spurt that kept them within range, 6-7. PLDT’s attacking, then, started clicking as they easily blasted Meralco for six of the next nine points. Fortunately, Meralco was spared from a total dry spell as they went through a stretch, when all their points came from PLDT’s errors as PLDT took a 13-9 lead. The Ultra Fast Hitter’s four-point lead held through until they conceded four straight errors that knotted the set at 20. A hotly contested, missed call from the referee almost swung the momentum all the way to Meralco’s side. However, PLDT’s attackers came through in the end with Jaja Santiago and Gretchel Soltones who easily scored the last two points of the set to give PLDT a 1-0 set lead.

PLDT’s trouble with service reception persisted into the second set giving Meralco easier chances at attacks. Still, PLDT’s devastating contingent of attackers allowed them to stay close throughout the entire set. Meralco stormed past midway through the set, as Cha Cruz drove home two straight attacks that gave them the lead permanently for the rest of the second frame. Furthermore, Meralco earned set point at 24-20, as an Aby Maraño serve hit the sweet spot between two PLDT receivers. The Ultra Fast Hitters, however, threatened to fight their way back into the set as Valdez and Santiago conspired for a late 3-0 rally to cut Meralco’s lead down to 23-24. Unfortunately for PLDT, Meralco’s Paneng Mercado ended the set with a powerful attack that careened off two blockers, tying the match at one set apiece.

The Power Spikers, then, handed PLDT their worst set loss of the season, as the third had a gap too wide for it to be even considered as close. Opting to rest, Gretchel Soltones, PLDT Coach, Roger Gorayeb, fielded Elaine Kasilag, who scored just two points in her only full set of action. PLDT’s floor defense remained uncoordinated for the rest of the third set, as Meralco easily went on two separate 3-0 scoring runs that allowed them to forge a decisive 20-14 lead. Maraño, Mercado, and Morada closed the set out for Meralco as they combined to score the last five points of the team, putting PLDT in the uncharted territory of being down one set to two.

“Nawalan kami ng [service reception] ‘nung first three sets, napakasama. Ang bagal ng laro namin. Ok lang kasi nakabawi naman kami,” said Coach Gorayeb on his team’s play early in the match.

PLDT, then, followed their worst set loss of the season with probably their best output as a team. They regained their form defensively as their floor defense started to snuff out Meralco’s best attacks. Former NCAA MVP, Sasa Devanadera came into the fourth set and changed the complexity of the match entirely as her activity at the net bothered Meralco’s attackers. Meralco held the lead only once for the entire set at 2-1, and PLDT completely routed them from there, allowing Meralco only 10 points from that point.

The deciding set was heavily contested as the teams struggled to hold on to the lead for an extended period. With the set tied at 10, Meralco surrendered two attack errors in a 3-0 PLDT run that ultimately decided the match. Alyssa Valdez capped a combination play which was followed by Sue Roces’ drop ball that baffled Meralco’s back line which gave the win to PLDT.

“Hindi naman naginproblema na umabot ng fifth set. Pag naghahanda naman kami, pang-hanggang fifth set ‘yung ginagawa namin para walang magulat,” said Coach Gorayeb.

Alyssa Valdez led all scorers with 23 points, while Jaja Santiago paced her U23 teammate with 14. Paneng Mercado finished with 18 points to lead all Power Spikers, while her former La Salle teammate, Aby Maraño dished out a season-high 16 markers.

PLDT remains the only undefeated team in the league with a 6-0 slate while Meralco’s loss drops them to a 2-2 record.

The scores:

PLDT (3) – Valdez 23, Santiago 14, Roces 11, Soltones 10, De Leon 7, Devanadera 3, Kasilag 2, Soriano 1, Villanueva 0, Latigay 0, Ferrer 0, Pantone (L)

Meralco (2) – Paneng 18, Maraño 16, Morada 13, Cruz 12, Angustia 6, Legacion 2, Guevara 1, Tiu 0, Hingpit 0, Hernandez 0, Reyes (L)

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Miguel Luis Flores fell face first into sports writing in high sch9l and has never gotten up. He reluctantly stumbled into the volleyball beat when he started with Tiebreaker Times three years ago. Now, he has waded through everything volleyball - from its icky politics to the post-modern art that is Jia Morado's setting.

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