Coming into the NCAA Final Four, the College of Saint Benilde Lady Blazers entered the postseason with a -3, owing all three of their elimination round losses to the other three contenders.
“That was the motivation for us. Wala kaming natalo sa mga mag-qualify kaya itong Final Four na ‘yung chance namin makabawi. Wala naman na kaming choice kundi bumawi,” said CSB Head Coach Michael Cariño.
Cariño’s wards heeded his call. After taking down perennial contenders, Perpetual Help Altas last Tuesday, the Lady Blazers overcame another one of their tormentors, dethroning defending champs, Arellano University Lady Chiefs in straight sets 25-20, 25-22, 25-23, to book a Finals seat at the FilOil Flying V Centre, earlier today.
A stark contrast of their five-set elimination round encounter, CSB controlled the entirety of the match with strategic serving and sharp defense. The Lady Blazers rained 12 service aces upon the unaware AU defense and scored eight block kills to Arellano’s five. Showing signs of rust, the floundering Lady Chiefs also coughed up 27 errors to Benilde’s 20.
Arellano nearly forced a fourth set with a late third frame comeback. Building five-point lead, 21-16, Benilde struggled to score with both of its ace attackers, Jeanette Panaga and Janine Navarro rotating to the back row. AU won six of the next seven points to force a 22-all tie. The Lady Chiefs then surrendered two errors, Benilde’s Ranya Musa missed out on a match winning-point, sending her serve wide. Coming out off a timeout, Benilde went to Panaga who slipped a floater over two blockers, to secure the win.
Panaga continued her tremendous roll, scoring 21 points off nine attacks, six aces, and six blocks. Graduating Open Hitter Janine Navarro contributed 11 points while Chloe Santillan added seven.
“Dalawa na ‘yung napataob namin. Next na ‘yung San Sebastian. We’ll just have to take it one game at a time,” said Cariño.
CSB now has the undefeated SSC Lady Stags next with Game One on Tuesday at the FilOil Flying V Centre. The Lady Stags hold a daunting thrice-to-beat advantage.
“Mabigat talaga (‘yung thrice-to-beat) pero kakayanin. Wala namang imposible. Nakarating nga kami ng Finals,” Cariño remarked. The Lady Blazers last made the Finals in Season 85, before Cariño’s watch.
In their final match for Arellano, the Seniors carried the offensive load. Middle Blocker, CJ Rosario contributed 13 points while Opposite Hitter Dana Henson and Middle Blocker Shirley Salamagos combined for 16 markers.
Arellano becomes the first that was unable to defend its crown at least once since the 1980s. Previous titlists won at least two championships in a row before surrendering the throne.
CSB (3) – Panaga 21, Navarro 11, Santillan 7, Daguil 5, Musa 3, Cheng 1, Borrero 0, Lim 0, Lizares 0, Torres (L)
AU (0) – Prado 13, Rosario 13, Henson 10, Salamagos 6, Sante 3, Ramirez 0, Macabalito 0, Calixto 0, Tan 0, Arocha 0, Galang (L), Sanchez (L)
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