They may be the strongest adversity the Bulldogs have faced in the last five years, but the reigning four-time champions National University showed poise against the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons.
Reigning Most Valuable Player Alvin Morada dominated Michael Clemente in the deciding singles match as the Bulldogs subdued the challenge of the Fighting Maroons, 3-2, to stand on the cusp of a fifth consecutive title, Wednesday morning at the Rizal Memorial Badminton Hall.
The Diliman-based side opened the day on the board as third-year stalwart JM Bernardo took a measure of revenge against former MVP Ros Pedrosa in the first singles match. The Maroon pulled away from a tight opening game and overhauled an 8-11 deficit to steal the frame at 21-16. Nonetheless, the second game was totally different as after a huge 11-4 start, there was no turning back for Bernardo ending the match at 21-14.
The Bulldogs then snagged the advantage and moved a match away from clinching the tie.
Mike Minuluan had to fend off the inspired start of UP rookie Kyle Legaspi to pull one back for National U. Legaspi took the initiative at 11-8 at the first-game interval, before errors piled up and gave way for Minuluan. The leftie from Bustillos then used this momentum in the second set, coming up with spectacular returns to stop his newbie opponent at 21-15, 21-8.
The first doubles match was a tussle at the start of either set, as UP rookie Harvey Tungul and super senior Betong Pineda kept in step with Bulldogs Alem Palmares and Morada. However, when the tide turned the Gold and Blue’s way, it was a one-way traffic. The seasoned duo from made quick work of their rookie-veteran opponents with a swift 21-11, 21-14 score line.
Despite the lead, the Maroons were optimistic they could turn this around with their captains Bernardo and Vinci Manuel on deck.
Their determination was rewarded with an equalizer, as the first-time doubles partners showed up in another stellar match. The Fighting Maroons versus the Bulldogs duo Minuluan and Pedrosa turned into a battle royale with exchange of good placement and power shots alternating, leading to long rallies. The seniors from the NU side tried to close out the tie, only for their counterparts to reach game points and match points in the sets. UP eventually took the tie at 21-17, 21-19.
The scenario led to the heroics of the last year’s top player Morada.
With so much experience on hand, the fifth-year standout set his mind and focused on the game.
“Siyempre kailangan pagdating mo sa court, confident ka. Dagdag-panakot sa kalaban ‘yun. At the same time, pambawas kaba sa ‘yo,” the national team standout said.
With his composed approach, Morada cruised to the third singles match with relative ease and sent National U to the brink of yet another season sweep. There were moments of brilliance from the younger Clemente, but Morada’s advantage was too much to overcome for the second-year Maroon. The match ended at 21-15, 21-14.
The Bulldogs captain was not expecting it would go down to his match, but still knew the Maroons had it in them to bounce back.
“Hindi naman sa pag-aano, hindi ko in-expect na aabot pa sa’kin. Pero pinaghandaan kasi namin ‘tong UP. Alam namin babawi sila,” he added.
With UAAP careers in the twilight for five National U Bulldogs – Morada, Pedrosa, Minuluan, Palmares, and Dawn Cuyno – the UAAP 80 MVP vowed they would play with their all on Friday.
“Since last na naming lima, ibubuhos na namin lahat para manalo sa Friday.”
National U will shoot for their fifth straight season sweep and the consequent championship as they battle State U once more on October 12 at 8 am.
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