Bulldogs set fourth straight Finals showdown vs. Blue Eagles

Mark Escarlote on Apr 26, 2017 04:57 PM
Bulldogs set fourth straight Finals showdown vs. Blue Eagles
ON TO THE FINALS -- National University sets up a fourth straight Finals battle against three-peat seeking Ateneo de Manila.

National University refused to let their dreams of reclaiming the crown go down the drain.

Down, 1-2, in the do-or-die 79th UAAP men’s volleyball stepladder semifinals, the Bulldogs mounted a heroic rally to escape the gritty and upset-conscious Far Eastern University Tamaraws, 23-25, 25-20, 15-25, 25-21, 15-12, Wednesday at the FilOil Flying V Centre in San Juan.

NU booked its fifth straight Finals appearance and arranged a fourth championship installment against unbeaten Ateneo de Manila Blue Eagles.

"Sana magtuluy-tuloy lang ang performance namin," said NU coach Dante Alinsunurin, whose squad survived the sudden death despite giving away 41 points off errors. "Sana nakatulong sa amin ang laro na ito siguro magiging advantage namin ito kasi hanggang ngayon tumataas pa rin ang level ng laro namin."   

The best-of-three Finals series starts May 2 at the Big Dome. Game 2 is on May 6 while the series decider, if needed, is on May 10 both also at the Big Dome.

Bryan Bagunas scored 23 points coming of 18 kills, three kill blocks and two aces to lead NU. Fauzi Ismail had 18 markers while Kim Malabunga added 10 for the Bulldogs, who are looking to end a two-year title drought after winning it all in Season 75 and 76.     

NU saw its 11-7 lead in the fifth disappear with FEU making a huge rally to tie the frame at 11. Season 78 Rookie of the Year James Natividad put the Bulldogs back on top with a sharp down the line hammer.

The Tams gave a free point in the next play after Richard Solis pounded his attack out. Fauzi Ismail pushed NU at match point with a laser, 14-11.

The Bulldogs gave FEU a breather when Bagunas overcooked his service in the next play.

But that served only as a minor delay to the Bulldogs entry to the Finals as John Paul Bugaoan surrendered the Tams’ season when he sent his service long.      

The twice-to-beat NU dropped the stepladder opener Sunday when the Morayta-based squad negated the Bulldogs’ semis advantage, 25-22, 24-26, 26-28, 17-25, that forced a sudden death.

Smelling blood after a dominating third set win for a 2-1 match lead, the Tams stepped on the gas in the fourth to build a 14-8 gap.

NU mounted a sizzling counter to erase a 20-16 deficit with seven straight points to claim the lead, 23-20. FEU stopped the bleeding with to close the gap but Francis Saura and Bryan Bagunas sealed the crucial set win with back-to-back attacks to force a decider.

Solis scored 15 points, Redijohn Paler had 14 markers  while graduating player Greg Dolor closed his colorful collegiate career 13 points for FEU, which had its Finals appearance drought extended to four years.

Jude Garcia had 10 markers while outgoing setter Ronchette Villegas tallied 37 excellent sets in his farewell stint for the Tams.   

 

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