Judy Caballejo took over in the stretch in the last two sets as Air Force overcame Laoag, 25-20, 26-24, 26-24, on Wednesday to move a win away from clinching a spot in the finals of the Shakey’s V-League Season 13 Open Conference at The Arena in San Juan City.
Trailing by four in the second set, the Jet Spikers went to the power-hitting Caballejo, who responded with a series of spikes, including one that shoved them to a 25-24 lead before scoring on a service ace to steal the set for a two-set lead.
With the game knotted at 24 in the third, the former UST star also came through with an off-the-block hit then unloaded another ace to seal the victory and give Air Force a 1-0 lead in their best-of-three semis series in the season-opening conference of the league sponsored by Shakey’s.
“She just took over in crucial situations for us,” said Air Force coach Jeffrey Jimenez of his top hitter.
Veteran Joy Cases provided a solid backup to Caballejo, firing 15 hits, including 14 on kills, while the rest backed them up with a gritty floor and net defense to avenge their similar straight-set loss to the Power Smashers in the elims two weeks ago.
In the Spikers’ Turf Season Two-Open Conference earlier, Cignal and Air Force pulled off a pair of cliffhangers to inch closer to a title clash.
The HD Spikers overcame the Sta. Elena Construction side, 25-22, 19-25, 25-22, 26-24, while the Jet Spikers outlasted the Instituto Estetico Manila Phoenix Volley Masters, 22-25, 25-18, 25-22, 25-23.
La Salle standout Raymark Woo unleashed a 22-point effort to help Cignal extend its unbeaten streak to six.
“We knew all along he will be an important part of our team and today (yesterday) he proved us correct,” said Cignal coach Michael Carino of the power-spiking Woo, the best scorer in last year’s UAAP.
Air Force, for its part, drew strength from the duo of Ismail Fauzi and Rodolfo Labrador, who combined for 32 hits.
Game Two of both the Spikers’ Turf and V-League semis are set on Saturday, also at The Arena, while a deciding Game Three, if necessary, will be played Monday at the Philsports Arena in Pasig City.