With their backs against the wall, Team captain Alfred Valbuena waxed hot when it mattered as season hosts University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons survived the Far Eastern University Tamaraws in a five-set thriller, 21-25 27-25 25-21 21-25 16-14, and stayed in the hunt for a playoff spot, Wednesday at the FilOil Flying V Centre.
Both teams made sure of their intentions at the start of the match as they match each other toe-to-toe. It was not long, however, as the Tamaraws pounced on the service reception problems of the Maroons with Jeric Gacutan on the line to lead at 18-12. Valbuena was then inserted into the lineup in lieu of Niccolo Consuelo and immediately contributed as he trimmed the lead, 14-19. With momentum on their side, UP turned to their wing spikers Valbuena and Wendel Miguel and moved to within one of FEU, 21-22. However, Jude Garcia took advantage of UP’s first-ball problems once more and strung three straight points and closes out the set with a no-touch service ace, 25-21.
The Tamaraws continued to romp with loaded serves, which led to numerous hitting errors from UP, and mounted another huge 16-10 advantage in the second set. FEU relied heavily on their quick attacks with Middle Blockers Pete Quiel and Greg Dolor at the helm. The Maroons then adjusted on their reception and crept into the lead before back-to-back attacks from Richard Solis put FEU at 23-20. At his turn on the service area, Valbuena launched two service aces to put UP at set point at 24-23. Quiel extended the match twice with two middle hits, before his partner Dolor coughed a crucial attack error that gave the set to UP at 27-25.
It was a tit-for-tat affair in the next two sets as the team who took the early advantage ended up winning the set. After making changes in their defensive patterns, the Maroons were able to utilize their percentage attackers Valbuena and Miguel to the fullest in the third frame. In the fourth set, surprise insertion John Paul Bugaoan provided the energy and helped Gacutan and Dolor send the match to a deciding set.
The Tamaraws took an early lead in the fifth set ending with two blocks from Dolor at 6-4. However, three spikes from the UP skipper and a block from Evan Raymundo gave the Maroons the lead once more going to the court change. The Diliman-based spikers’ advantage ballooned to four, 11-7, off two straight blocks, before two consecutive mishits from Valbuena gave FEU some lease for life.
The green-shirts completed the comeback and levelled the match at 13 with a tip from Jude Garcia. Miguel then kept UP afloat with two match points, before Valbuena made amends on his errors and rejected FEU’s final attack to stir the Maroons to victory.
A relieved UP Head Coach Rod Palmero attributes the win to his team’s desire and will. “Yung sinasabi kong tiwala sa sarili nila, yung alam naman nilang kayang-kaya nila,” he said. The mentor added that the Maroons still need to work on their mental toughness in order to turn their season around.
UP Captain Valbuena steered the ship for his team with 26 points, 21 coming from attacks, while his fellow outside hitter Wendel Miguel had 19 markers. Gacutan paced the Tamaraws with 20 points, with Garcia providing 14 of his own.
UP (3) – Valbuena 26, Miguel 19, San Pascual 8, Raymundo 8, San Pedro 5, Millete 2, Acuna 1, Consuelo 1, Nasol (L), Luan (L)
FEU (2) – Gacutan 20, Garcia 14, Dolor 12, Quiel 11, Solis 6, Barrica 3, Bugaoan 2, Villegas 2, Silang 1, Marmeto R. (L)