TMS-PHILIPPINE Army averted a monumental collapse after taking the first two sets to repulse hard-fighting Cagayan Valley in a thrilling five-sets win, 25-22, 25-22, 25-27, 10-25, 15-13, last night and barge into the Philippine Super Liga women’s volleyball finals at MOA Arena.
With former national players Michelle Carolino, Mary Jean Balse and Cristina Salak making their move in the deciding set, the Lady Troopers stretched their winning run to five, beating the only team that defeated them so far in the conference.
But it wasn’t that easy for Army as Cagayan Valley refused to roll over and raced from 8-14 down in the third to forge a 25-25 tie.
The Lady Rising Suns used that momentum to take the next two sets and transformed an otherwise lopsided match into an exciting epic many thought could have been mistaken for the championship duel.
“Let’s remember that we had a long rest (after topping the eliminations) and this team (Cagayan) has been playing continuously,” said Army coach Rico de Guzman.
“And they are a young team, while we have aging former national players,” added de Guzman.
But the 36-year-old Salak begged to disagree: “Age is just a number.”
The veteran setter duly proved her point, top scoring with 14 points, nine on the attack. Carolino finished with 12, including two of her team’s final four points. Nerissa Bautista had 11, while Joanne Bunag, Jacqueline Alarca and Balse added nine, eight and seven markers respectively.
Jovelyn Gonzaga was used sparingly most of the two-hour match but played a pivotal role down the stretch, igniting a 6-0 spurt in the fifth blocking and creating offensive space with her left-handed forays.
Cagayan was ahead, 12-6, in the final set before Army launched the make-or-break rally which culminated with the 6-foot-1 Balse blocking off a shot for match point.
Joy Cases scored 18 for Cagayan, which was favored to be in the final after beating PA in another five-setter in the opener only to suffer key losses near the end of the eliminations.