• Home Ultera rallies past Army, nears V-L crown

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    PLDT Home Ultera blew three match points in the decider but battled back from one point down in a wild finish to snatch a 16-25, 20-25, 26-24, 29-27, 18-16 victory over Army yesterday and move within a win from capturing the Shakey’s V-League Season 12 Reinforced Conference crown at The Arena in San Juan City.

    The Ultra Fast Hitters slowed down a bit after grabbing a 14-11 lead in the fifth frame, committing a net violation and getting blocked twice while yielding two attack points with only a point to show off Honey Tubino’s service error that saw the Lady Troopers, who blew a 2-1 set lead and 21-16 cushion in the fourth, grab a 16-15 edge.

    But the Ultra Fast Hitters proved steadier in a nerve-wracking finish, forcing a tie on an Army net violation and regaining the lead on the last of a slew of Sue Roces’ running attacks before clinching the thrilling two-hour, seven-minute victory on Army’s Joanne Bunag’s faulty hit that went wide.

    That gave Home Ultera a 1-0 lead in their best-of-three series for the crown in the season-ending conference of the league sponsored by Shakey’s with the Open Conference champions hoping to wrap it all up in Game Two next Sunday.

    Home Ultera coach Roger Gorayeb went to his local aces with their imports still trying to blend well with their brand of play and Gretchel Soltones, Alyssa Valdez, Aiza Pontillas, Roces, Charo Soriano, setter Rubie de Leon and libero Lizlee Ann Pantone responded to rally past the Lady Troopers.

    Home Ultera coach Roger Gorayeb kept Valdez, suiting up for the first time this conference, out of the game in the first set but the Open and Collegiate Conference MVP still went on to topscore with 25 hits, including 22 attack points, while Soltones wound up with 12 markers and Pontillas had 11 hits.

    “She’s an integral part of this team and she showed it in this game,” said Gorayeb of Valdez.

    Imports Victoria Hurtt scored eight points while Sareea Freeman had five markers, both in three sets, although Gorayeb tapped the latter in the latter part of the fifth frame.

    “We’re still have a hard time adjusting with our imports and vice versa,” said Gorayeb. “But the good thing was the locals stepped us.”

    It was a sorry setback for Army, which looked ready to turn what was expected to be a fiercely-fought duel between the two fancied teams in the league presented by PLDT Home Ultera and backed by Mikasa and Accel by pouncing on Home Ultera’s listless start to sweep the first two sets in emphatic fashions.

    It was also Army’s first setback this conference after a sweep of the elims and the elims, including a 25-23, 23-25, 25-11, 19-25, 15-13 victory over Home Ultera last Oct. 25.

    Former MVP Jovelyn Gonzaga fired 19 hits while Tubino and Aby Maraño scored 16 and 15 points, respectively, for the Lady Troopers.

    Despite losing the third frame in a close finish, Army, runner-up to absentee Cagayan Valley here last year, still moved threateningly close to wrapping up the match when it surged to a 21-16 lead in the fourth.

    But Soltones took charge for Home Ultera, coming through with a wide array of shots that chipped away Army’s lead then Valdez found her rhythm and range to join the fray, setting the stage for a wild, wooly finish.

    A Valdez hit forced a 24-all count and the two teams battled it out to three more deadlocks, the last on Maraño’s one-handed return after a long, edgy rally that had the fans screaming. But a miscommunication in setting up a play cost Army a point and Soltones forced the decider on an off-the-block spike against Tina Salak.

    Sustaining its momentum, Home Ultera took 10 of the first 15 points in the fifth set but Army refused to give up, racking up three straight of its own then after the Ultra Fast Hitters, with Roces, Pontillas and Soriano scoring, stormed to a 14-11 lead, the Lady Troopers struck back, only to crack in gripping endgame pressure.

    Games on Dec. 6
    12:45 p.m. – Navy vs UP (for third)
    3 p.m. – Home Ultera vs Army (for crown)
    5 p.m. – Air Force vs Cignal     (Spikers’ Turf final)

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