Thrice, the University of the Philippines were denied the chance to advance by their next-door neighbors Ateneo de Manila University. However, as team captain CK Clemente vowed: “Not again.”
With the Finals within reach, the UP Fighting Maroons leaned on the heroics of former skipper Betong Pineda and neophyte Paul Gonzales to stop the Blue Eagles, 3-1, to arrange the Finals date with the National University, Friday morning at the Rizal Memorial Badminton Hall.
JM Bernardo once again opened the day for UP with a composed win over last year’s Rookie of the Year Keoni Asuncion.
The second-year Maroon, who kept his unscathed record intact, blasted the opponent, 21-14, in the first set. Asuncion forced Bernardo into a few errors and stayed afloat in the third set. Nonetheless, the excellent defense of the latter clinched the set and the match at 21-18.
Carlo Remo then took one back for Ateneo, winning the second singles match at 21-15, 21-19, over Vinci Manuel.
After a clinical finish in the opening frame, the Blue Eagle skipper had to fend off the spirited play of Manuel in the second set. Down five, Remo completed his comeback and kept Ateneo in the tie.
Nonetheless, the Fighting Maroons had their doubles pairs in the wings and with the confidence in these tandems, UP were out to snag this day.
The result was a sweep of the doubles matches.
Clemente and Bernardo linked up and bamboozled Sean Chan and Nicole Filart in just two sets. Having played lightly and with chemistry for the past few ties of the qualifying round, the UP duo were just unstoppable.
Filart and Chan tried to use their power, but to no avail, as the smooth transition of Clement Bernardo was too much, ending the match at 21-7, 21-11.
Pineda shared that prior to the second doubles match, he and partner Paul Gonzales thought of nothing but to do well. He said, “Talagang focused lang ako sa game namin. Alam ko andyan yung teammates ko [kahit ano mangyari].”
Nonetheless, he has claimed the victory. “Nung nanalo ‘yung doubles namin, naisip ko na sa’min talaga ‘to,” Pineda added.
It was not easy, as Remo and Asuncion took the initiative in the first game. However, the Fighting Maroons took it one point at a time. Eventually, with better execution, Pineda and Gonzales bagged the first set at 21-18.
A nip-and-tuck affair followed in the second, set before UP got within two of finishing the match at 19-15. Remo again tried to mount a similar turnaround as in his singles match, but this time with Asuncion by his side, and cut UP’s deficit at one, 18-19.
However, a Gonzales smash and an error from Asuncion sealed the match and the win for the Fighting Maroons.
UP will take on defending champions National University Bulldogs in the championship series, which starts on Saturday, October 14, at 8am.