Saints and Lattes-Letran maintained the dominant trend in the knockout playoffs of the Spikers’ Turf Invitational Conference, effortlessly defeating Cabstars-Cabuyao 26-24, 25-19, 25-21 to secure the third semifinal spot at the Paco Arena in Manila on Sunday.
The Saints Spikers overcame the lack of preparation against the Cabstars but carried the momentum from their previous win in the close of the Pool C eliminations. They pulled through in a pressure-packed first set duel and secured a convincing win in the next.
Bem-Bem Bautista stepped up to take the lead role after top hitter Vince Himzon’s exit in the second set due to injury, contributing 14 points. The last two points came from a contested block touch and a potent blast that put the Saints Spikers at match point, 24-21.
Letran secured the last ticket to the quarters and advanced to the Final Four on Cabstars’ Jomar Soriano’s wide cross-court attack. Letran joined Perpetual-Kinto Tyres and Cignal in the round-robin semis set to start on Wednesday, after the Altas and the HD Spikers carved out similar 3-0 victories over the FEU Tamaraws and EcoOil La Salle Green Oilers, respectively.
It was a significant win for Letran, which swept Navy just last Friday to finish second to Cignal in Pool C play. The Saints Spikers had only one day to prepare against the Cabstars, the top team in Pool B during the eliminations.
“Confident ang mga players ko, that’s why hindi kami masyadong nahirapan,” said Letran coach Brian Esquibel. “I also told them na kahit me nangyari sa kasama nila (Himzon), kailangan pa rin nilang mag-trabaho at gawin ang best nila.”
The big-hitting Himzon suffered an ankle sprain in the second set and didn’t return, but his early 13-point burst helped key Letran’s dominance in that stretch.
Steven Sta. Maria also finished with 14 points as the Saints Spikers outscored the Cabstars in spikes, 50-29, although the latter finished with 11 blocks against the former’s seven.
In another fierce battle in the third set, the Saints Spikers proved their mettle as Lorenz Vicente supported Bautista with clutch hits. Back-to-back points from Vicente kept them ahead at 21-18 after enduring two service miscues.
The Cabstars kept the game close at 20-22 on the Saints Spikers’ net touch and were poised to pull within one on a Bautista attack that was initially ruled as errant. However, the Saints Spikers challenged the call and won, giving the team a 23-20 cushion instead.
“It’s all about communication and trust in each other,” said Bautista, whose slide attack, coupled with Vicente’s off-the-block hit, shattered the 16-all count in the third.
Letran took a three-point lead on a Cabuyao hitting error and stayed in control the rest of the way as the Cabstars struggled on their offense and failed to demonstrate the form they showed in topping the Pool B play in the eliminations.
“It’s a big achievement to be in the semis, so pagbubutihan pa namin para ma-develop skills at confidence ng mga bata,” said Esquibel.
Michael Doria top-scored for Cabstars with 10 points while Soriano finished with nine markers, Joshua Ramilo and Dominic Panganiban had eight and four points, respectively, and Miguel Dasig, Walter Pendel, and Gab Magsino added three markers apiece.