Air Force draws first blood, drops Cignal in series opener
Philippine Air Force moved a win closer to its second conference title of the season.
Philippine Air Force needed a late fifth set spark to draw first blood and move a step closer to the title with a hard-earned 25-23, 25-19, 19-25, 25-27, 15-12, win Wednesday over defending champion Cignal in Game 1 of the best-of-three 2nd Spikers' Turf Reinforced Conference Finals series at the PhilSports Arena in Pasig City.
The Jet Spikers banked on the power-hitting trio of Mark Alfafara, Bryan Bagunas and Howard Mojica to shatter a 10-10 deadlock in the deciding frame to escape with the victory in the two-hour, 11-minute match.
Bagunas finished with 24 points with 19 off kills, four kill blocks and an ace for the Jet Spikers. Alfafara had 16 markers, Reyson Fuentes got 15 while Mojica and Jeffrey Malabanan scored 12 each for Air Force.
“Cignal din naman ‘yan. Malakas na kalaban din ‘yan,” said Air Force coach Rhovyl Verayo, whose wards can close the series on Saturday.
“Sabi ko nga konting twist of fate lang lalaban at lalaban ‘yan. Kami naman ginawa rin namin na kailangan silang mapigilan kaso magaling eh,” he added. “Siyempre ang galing din ng strategies nila kung anong gagawin. Ang ganda ng ikot nila ng tao at ‘yun ang hindi namin nabasa.”
Game 3, if necessary, is on Monday.
Air Force broke a 10-10 all in the fifth set with three straight points capped by a kill by Mojica. Capate scored on the next play before Bagunas pushed the Jet Spikers at match point, 14-11. Capate saved a point on an off speed before Alfafara sealed the match with an off the block kill.
The Open Conference champion looked like they were heading to an easy victory after dominating the first two sets but Cignal had a different thing in mind.
Sitting Bonjomar Castel and Peter Torres in the third set, the HD Spikers stunned the defense of Air Force by tweaking their rotation to steal the frame.
Cignal trailed, 9-14, early in the fourth set before unleashing a huge rally to reach set point, 24-22. Air Force tied it at 24. The Jet Spikers saved another set point before Ysay Marasigan and Lorenzo Capate forced the decider with a kill and and a kill block.
Capate scored 20 points, Marasigan got 15 while Edmar Bonono had 13 markers off the bench for Cignal.
Meanwhile, Champion Supra also moved a win closer for a consolation third place trophy after downing Instituto Estetico Manila, 25-19, 25-23, 27-29, 25-13, in Game 1 of their best-of-three series.
A win by the Spikers on Saturday will give them the bronze medal. Game 3, if necessary, is on Monday.
In case the Phoenix Volley Masters forced a series decider and the Finals series ends Saturday, the team with the highest tiebreak will clinch third place.
Follow this writer on Twitter, @fromtheriles