SEA Games: Tiwala lang sa isa't isa -- Espejo on miracle win

Mark Escarlote on Dec 08, 2019 11:28 PM
SEA Games: Tiwala lang sa isa't isa -- Espejo on miracle win
The Philippine men's volleyball team's trust and faith on each other keyed in one of the biggest upsets in Southeast Asian Games volleyball competition. (Arvin Lim)

The Philippine men’s volleyball team stared at Thailand’s huge match point advantage in the fourth set.

Thailand, a powerhouse team on a mission to win its fifth straight SEA Games title, needed just one point to finish off the Filipinos on Sunday in their 30th Southeast Asian Games men’s volleyball semifinals.

The Thais held a 24-21 lead.

Refusing to roll down and die, the Filipinos, 92 ranks lower than Thailand, came back to life to write a historic feat 42 years in the making.

The Philippines booked a rare gold medal date with Indonesia in the country’s first men’s volleyball final since a runner-up finish in the inaugural 1977 edition of the meet in Malaysia after ousting Thailand, 17-25, 25-20, 23-25, 27-25, 17-15, in front of 6,700 crowd at the rocking PhilSports Arena in Pasig City. 

Their feat hinged on one simple word: trust.

The host team saved three match points to knot the set before Bryan Bagunas scored to put the PHI up, 25-24.      

Amorntep Konhan answered with a hit but Bagunas hammered another kill before the PHI completed the comeback after an attack error by Thailand to force a decider.

Marck Espejo, a power server and top hitter, was on the service line during that pivotal stretch when the Nationals kept their necks above water.

“Kahit nu’ng fourth set hindi ko alam kung idya-jump serve ko ba o ipo-float,” he recalled.

He opted to just make sure his serve will go in. Never mind if Thailand will easily receive his serve, he knew his teammates will get the defensive stop. 

“Sabi ko, ‘Hindi i-float ko na lang. Tiwala lang sa isa’t isa,’” said Espejo. “As in kinakabahan ako sa loob ng court nun. Di ko alam.”

“Nu’ng natapos ang fourth set nagti-thank you kami kay Lord,” he added. “May breaks talaga siguro sa amin pumanig ang breaks talaga. Wala talagang imposible kung gusto mo lahat pwedeng mangyari.”

The Nationals’ character was tested in the fourth set. The fifth turned out to be one for the ages.

Kim Malabunga broke a 12-12 tie in the fifth frame with a huge kill block to put the Nationals up. Konhan tied it at 13 after Thailand called time. Kittinon Namkhunthod put Thailand at match point but Konhan sent his serve out.

Konhan scored on an off the block hit but Malabunga tied it again at 15.

Then the stars aligned in favor of the Filipinos.

Bagunas got a kill block in after an unsuccessful challenge by Thailand before sealing the win with a thunderous hammer to an open spot at the back.   

“Para sa akin naman kasama namin si Lord nu’ng naglalaro kasi umaga pa lang sumadya kami sa church para sa game na to kasi sobrang mahalaga tong game na to sa amin,” said Bagunas, who rained down 27 points to lead the Nationals.

“Sobrang nakakaproud kasi ilang years na sila nagcha-champion tapos tinalo namin sila,” added Bagunas, who is in his second SEA Games stint. “Doon lumabas yung skills ng bawat isa. Talagang sobrang saya hindi namin ma-explain yung saya namin.”

The mission is not yet over for the Filipinos as they are still facing the only team to hand them a loss in the competition.

But they are undaunted.

They know the battle will be a hard one but they have each other's back.

Each trusting each other as brothers marching to the biggest fight of their lives.



Follow this writer on Twitter, @fromtheriles

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