Air Force nearly blew a two-set edge but regrouped in time to outlast Cignal, 23-25, 19-25, 25-19, 27-25, 15-12, on Wednesday and move within a win from nailing the Spikers’ Turf Season 2 Reinforced Conference crown at the Philsports Arena in Pasig.
The Air Spikers put their act together in the fifth as Bryan Bagunas, Mark Alfafara, Reyson Fuentes, Howard Mojica, Jeffrey Malabanan and setter Jessie Lopez combined for one big play after another to finally check their skid and clinch the win to go 1-up in their best-of-three series.
It was a big rebound for Air Force, which appeared headed for a romp after sweeping the first two sets, only to crumble in the face of the defending champion HD Spikers’ strong fightback in the next two frames.
But Bagunas, Alfafara, Fuentes, Mojica and Malabanan came through with big hits, big blocks and big saves to pull off the two-hour victory in a match that featured a number of vicious kills and awesome blocking, moving the Air Spikers into the threshold of another title romp after beating the same Cignal squad for the Open Conference crown early this year.
Lopez actually took the blame for their collapse, saying: “I lost control of myself and my game when I started focusing more on my teammates’ errors than on bringing them back together.”
“Luckily, I was able to do that when it mattered most. This is another learning experience for us,” added Lopez, who produced all but three of the team’s 61 excellent sets.
Bagunas sizzled with 24 hits, including 19 kills, while Alfafara had 16 markers, Fuentes chipped in 15 points and Mojica and Malabanan added 12 hits apiece for Air Force, which also won the opener of last year’s title series but lost the next two and the crown in the league backed by Accel as official outfitter.
Air Force guns for the clincher on Saturday.
Lorenze Capate Jr. came through with 20 hits, Ysrael Marasigan chipped in 15 markers and Edmar Bonono added 13 points for Cignal lost in all scoring skills, 57-61 (spikes), 10-13 (blocks) and 5-6 (serve), but made it back into the game with a big win in the third set and an escape in the extended four-set duel.
Earlier, Champion Supra repulsed Instituto Estetico Manila, 25-19, 25-23, 27-29, 25-13, to move a win from a bronze medal finish in the season-ending conference of the country’s premier men’s volley league.
The Active Smashers came back strong from a grueling third set defeat, outclassing the Volley Masters in the fourth behind Berlin Paglinawan, Arjay Onia, Joven Camaganakan and Ace Mandani and a solid net defense to wrap up the one-hour, 37-minute encounter.
IEM actually beat Champion Supra in spikes, 50-47, but the Active Smashers produced 10 blocks against their rivals’ six and scored eight aces, three more than the Volley Masters.