One step closer to the goal is the reigning four-peat champions National University Bulldogs as they completed another sweep of the qualifying round en route to another Finals appearance, even as University of the Philippines secured the twice-to-beat advantage in the stepladder semifinals for the third consecutive year, Saturday morning at the Rizal Memorial Badminton Hall.
Despite the absences of reigning Most Valuable Player Alvin Morada on sickness and former MVP Ros Pedrosa on rest, the rest of the Bulldogs stepped up in their domination of the University of the East Red Warriors.
Former Far Eastern University standout Estarco Bacalso II started the rout with a two-game sweep of Christian Garcia in the first singles match. Following up this sweep, Dawn Cuyno finally bagged a singles win in a similar fashion past Rojan Gamil to push the lead to 2-0.
Alem Palmares and last year’s Finals hero and partner Mike Minuluan pocketed the win and the outright stint to the last dance right there and then, sweeping the first doubles match over Edward Adriano and Gamil.
The first two singles players for the Bustillos-based squad then team up to deny UE’s graduating senior Benjamin Silva a graceful exit, as they two dominated the latter and Garcia in the second doubles match in two. Palmares finished the day with 2-0 win past Silva.
For Minuluan, the sweep was very much welcome as they need the time to work on some things. “As for the sweep, masaya kami. Pero, we will prepare pa for the Finals. Kailangan hindi kami mag-relax at makampante especially pag nasa game na.”
“Focus pa rin kami dapat para makuha namin yung goal namin, which is to get the five-peat,” he ended.
With the Bulldogs sealing the first Finals berth, the University of the Philippines, their last year’s Finals opponents took the headway after clinching the twice-to-beat bonus in the stepladder semifinals. This after the Fighting Maroons took down the De La Salle University Green Shuttlers, 4-1.
JM Bernardo once more swept his assignments for the day to steer the Diliman-based side to the incentive for the third straight year — the same period the top Maroons has played in the UAAP The third-year player dominated La Salle rookie Louie Khairial in the first singles match before he and his captain Vinci Manuel put UP at the #2 seed with the second doubles win over Paolo Malabanan and Pineda
Pineda, before that loss, has kept his immaculate singles record for the season after taking one for the Green and White, dismantling the challenge of Michael Clemente in two games. Rookie Harvey Tungul, however, was on point for UP after he and former skipper Betong Pineda regained the advantage for the Maroons past Cayel Pajarillo and Bless Linaban.
The other newbie Kyle Legaspi completed the rout for the Maroons with a three-set turnaround off Pajarillo.
The Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles then completed their eliminations in third place after turning around a 0-1 setback in the first singles match.
Graduating University of Santo Tomas standout John Christian Yabut ended his UAAP career on a high note after pulling off a 2-1 win past Carlo Remo. The Atenean dominated the first game, but the Thomasian carried on to take the next two games.
That was UST’s last growl for the season as Ateneo swept the next four matches to end it at 4-1.
Keoni Asuncion fended off Henry Peralta in the second singles match in two close games. Afterwards, Fides Bagasbas and Sean Chan stunned Paolo Barrios and Juan Miguel Santiago to snag the lead for the Blue and White with a thrilling three-set win. The Blue Eagles had to come back from two match points down to ultimately take the third game at 24-22.
No questions, however, came in the second doubles match as Asuncion and Remo easily took the match and tie, quashing Russel Enriquez and Josh Defensor.
Bagasbas then bucked fatigue to complete a come-from-behind win past Henrick Peralta.
The Blue Eagles (4-2) will take on the Green Shuttlers (3-3) for the first round of the stepladder semifinals on Sunday, October 7 at 8 am. The winner will face the Fighting Maroons on Monday, October 8 also at 8 am.