The Philippine Men’s National Volleyball team wielded the upset axe, dethroning reigning champion Thailand in five grueling sets, 17-25, 25-20, 23-25, 27-25, 17-15, in the 30th Southeast Asian Games men’s volleyball semifinals, Sunday at the PhilSports Arena.
Reeling from a loss in the opening salvo, the Nationals sprung back to life in the second set and sprinted to a commanding 23-18 spread. Thailand then gave a huge scare when it whittled the deficit down to three at 20-23. Kim Malabunga was on patrol at the net, though, and nailed consecutive blows to knot the set count.
Both team’s hard hitters traded bullets in a searing back-and-forth, leading up to a 22-all stalemate. Kissada Nilsawai then pummeled a blistering hit in the ensuing sequence. Marck Espejo immediately responded with one of his own that ignited the crowd.
Amorntep Konhan and Nilsawai silenced the whole stadium, though, as the Thai duo hammered down the set-clinching kills.
With their backs against the wall, the Filipinos came out aggressively in the fourth set. They tightened their defensive screws and leaned on their precise execution at the net to mount a 15-12 cushion.
However, the Thais churned out an offensive barrage that flipped the deficit into an 18-15 advantage. Refusing to back down, the Philippine contingent slowly crept back, breathing down Thailand’s neck, 21-22.
In a precarious situation, the reigning kings of Southeast Asia showcased their mettle, swiftly putting themselves at match point, 24-21. Still, Bagunas and Malabunga willed the Philippines back and forged a deuce.
Bagunas and Konhan went on to exchange crucial attacks, before the former gained the upper hand with a crowd-igniting cross. The Thais then coughed up a costly attack error to complete the Philippines’ improbable resurgence.
In the frenetic rubber set, Espejo and Malabunga connived to give the tricolor squad crucial separation at 8-6, until the Thais winded them to take lead, 10-9.
Bagunas fired the equalizer, then triggered a string of deadlocks which involved a trade of blows between Espejo and Konhan for a 13-all knot. Though Kittinon Namkhuntod buoyed Thailand to match point, his teammate Konhan sent his service short for another deuce.
Konhan struck first in the two-to-win situation, but Malabunga and Bagunas linked up for a 16-15 edge. Bagunas then delivered the lethal blow that unseated Thailand and punched the Philippines’ ticket to the Finals for the first time since 1977.
The Philippines will face Indonesia for the men’s volleyball gold on Tuesday, December 10.
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