|UST (7-5, PS 0-1), 3rd||0||0||3||0||0||1||0||4||10||4|
|UP (7-5, PS 1-0), 2nd||0||0||0||0||5||2||–||7||9||2|
One is greater than two.
The University of the Philippines (UP) Lady Maroons rose up from a 0–3 deficit against the University of Santo Tomas (UST), to win 7–4, and secure the twice-to-beat advantage in the Stepladder semifinals, Saturday, March 14 at the Rizal Memorial Baseball Stadium.
With so much at stake, both squads put their defense to work in the first two innings. At the bottom of the first, UP lead-off batter, DC Cruz hit a double to right field to start it for her team. The Lady Maroons, however, failed to add-on in offense. The first inning ended scoreless.
In the second inning, it was UST’s turn to get the offense going. One of the leading Best Hitter candidates, CJ Roa, began with a single for the Tigresses at the their side of the second. Two successive outs advance the sophomore to third base. Arlyn Areglado was walked, and put runners on the corners. UP defense held on afterwards, which left Roa and Areglado stranded.
The España-based batters kept the momentum as, second-year pitcher, Ann Antolihao hit the ball to deep left to register a single. Kristine Lacupa was then hit by pitch, and advanced to first base. With runners on first and second, graduating veteran, Jenalyn Polinario hit a booming triple to the right field to score Antolihao and Lacupa; UST were on the board 2-0. Celestine Palma followed it up with another hit, and Polinario added another run, 3-0. Two more hits from Roa and Mallows Garde threatened to blow the game up for UST with just one out. The outfield of the Lady Maroons ended the possible onslaught as they finish with the next two outs at the top of the third inning.
Senior Lily Gonzales started the bottom of the fourth for the Maroons with a hit after Maki Cabriana grounded to shortstop Lyra Gustilo. DC Cruz had a strong hit to the left field, but UST’s Roa caught the ball. With two outs, Sella Mendoza connects to right, but Gonzales was caught going to the second, and was forced out by Gustilo off a throw to Hannah De La Torre. The third inning ended at 3-0 in favor of the Tigresses.
Both teams had a defensive fourth half-innings as they both allow just a hit to their opponents. Antolihao had the lead-off single for UST, but was consequently forced out by UP’s shortstop Gonzales off a throw to Mary Joy Abanes on second. Similarly, the Maroons had a hit from newbie, Gelai Penales, to start their side, but was also forced out by the Tigresses.
UST was not able to pad on their lead in the fifth inning as they were limited to just two hits, and had only two runners left on base. UP had clamped down on defense as well as they had easy put outs and ended the top of the inning with a strike out to Areglado.
Sensing the urgency to overhaul the deficit, the Lady Maroons pulled off in their turn at bat in the fifth. Third-year right fielder, Gabin Paz connects to deep left for a single to lead off the offense. After Cabriana flyed out to the centerfield Lacupa, Gonzales had another base hit to add runners on the bases for UP. A triple by DC Cruz scored Paz and Gonzales to put UP on the scoreboard, 2-3. However, a succeeding error by UST sent the hard-hitting junior home, and the game was tied at 3 runs apiece.
With just an out and with UP still on top of the batting order, Mendoza hit a grounder to shortstop Roa, but the throw to first base Garde was too high, and the Maroons co-captain advanced to first base. Penales, who had a solid outing, added another hit off to the left field, prompting UST to make a pitching change with Garde taking the mound. Second-year player, Chanty Bongat stepped to the plate. She connected to deep left-centerfield for a hit to score Mendoza, and for the go-ahead run for the Lady Maroons, 4-3. The burly designated player attempted to go to second base, but was chased by UST substitute second baseman, Jonalie Almonia, and Antolihao, who was moved to first base. In this play, Penales, though, was able to add another run, 5-3.
De La Torre had the lead-off single for UST in the top of the sixth inning to lead the comeback. A subsequent fly ball to the UP centerfield, Mendoza, by Antolihao advanced her rookie teammate to second base. A hit by Lacupa further moved De La Torre to third, but a fielding error of the third baseman, DC Cruz, scored De La Torre as UST cut the deficit to one, 4-5. Maroons defense retired the next two batters of the Tigresses to end the half-inning.
With the momentum hanging on the balance, UST turned back to their pitcher Antolihao on the mound. Dennise Cruz did not waste time as she swung, and hit the first pitch to the center. Second baseman, Almonia was not able to catch the ball, which allowed Cruz run up to the second base. Paz, then, tried to hit ball, and another error by the Tigresses advanced the veteran to first. Maroons captain, Seiko Hashimoto took matters in her own hands, as she fired up a hit to deep right to score D. Cruz and Paz, 7-4. However, the graduating senior was caught stealing third for the first out. The defense of UST worked its way out to end the agony.
The UP Lady Maroons were three outs from securing the twice-to-beat advantage, and they made it count. Shortstop Gonzales dismissed the first two batters, Roa and Garde. The senior was also able to collar the ball from Oria as the Lady Maroons erupted to celebration. However, it turned out to be premature, as D. Cruz was not able to catch the ball, and Oria was safe at first. With Kristel Angeles at bat, Gonzales finished the match still tagging Oria off a throw by Cabriana on second, finally making the win and the festivities official for UP.
When asked about their goals going into the season, UP skipper, Hashimoto shared that they were really aiming for the championship. However, she said, “Every game we have a goal. At first, we said to just enjoy the game.” In the succeeding matches, the aim of the girls was more specific for every game. The main reason to how they were slowly getting their groove, Hashimoto revealed, “A sports psychologist told us to focus on our goal during the game.” She added, “I can say we are peaking.” The graduating Sports Science major said on her part that she had no preference on who to meet in the semifinals, but shared that they will just prepare for either UST or National University.