Sta. Elena-National U emerged on top in a thrilling battle of power and nerves in the third set, then wore down Navy in the fourth to secure a 25-23, 22-25, 28-26, 25-17 victory, completing the semifinal cast in the Spikers’ Turf Invitational Conference at the Paco Arena in Manila on Sunday night.
The Pool A eliminations topnotchers also had to overcome the sidelining of Buds Buddin due to injury in the pivotal set.
Still, they squeezed out the win on a Navy attack error and a power tip in a helter-skelter finish to go up 2-1.
While the Nationals sustained their charge in the fourth, the Sealions lost steam, enabling the former to cruise to an eight-point romp. They eventually completed the victory in two hours and 12 minutes of intense action.
“Finally, nakapag-semis din,” said NU coach Dante Alinsunurin. “Sa past leagues kasi namin, hirap na hirap kaming makapasok sa semis. Pero naging matyaga lang sila sa buong laro. Kahit down kami, nagagawa pa din ng paraan na makabalik.”
After taking the initial frame in a close fashion, the Nationals struggled to try to counter the Sealions’ strong surge in the next set.
That set the stage for at least a four-set finish in contrast to the first three knockout duels that all ended in straight-set wins by Perpetual, Cignal, and Letran.
Navy actually gained control of the swing set but squandered two match points, the last at 26-25 on an Obed Mukaba net violation.
However, the Nationals took the next point and snatched the lead on the Sealions’ mishit before clinching the hotly disputed set.
Alinsunurin also commended his players for rising to the challenge, particularly after Buddin took an early exit.
Jade Disquitado more than filled up the slack and fired seven points in the last two sets.
“Alam ko naman na kahit sinong ipasok ko dyan, ay magde-deliver, particularly Disquitado. May tiwala ako sa kanila,” said Alinsunurin, who actually made it two-for-two in semis after also steering the Choco Mucho Flying Titans to the Final Four of the Premier Volleyball League.
Leo Ordiales led NU with 17 points while, the middle Mukaba produced six blocks on his way to a 16-point game.
Rwenzmel Taguibolos also shone with 13 points, while Nico Almendras matched Disquitado’s seven-point output.
Buddin chipped in nine points before sustaining an ankle sprain.
It was a tough loss for Navy, which used its veteran smarts to sting the young Nationals in the second set and dictated the tempo in the third.
However, they failed to recover in the fourth and missed the Final Four cast. Joeven dela Vega led Navy’s attack with 17 points.
Meanwhile, Greg Dolor and Christian Marcelino finished with 11 and 10 points, respectively.