Lady Troopers end PLDT Hitters’ run, near crown

Dindin Santiago-Manabat and Tina Salak underscore Army’s tough net defense as they foil PLDT’s Gretchel Soltones’ attack in the opener of the Shakey’s V-League Season 12 Open Conference finals at The Arena in San Juan yesterday.(pr photo)
Dindin Santiago-Manabat and Tina Salak underscore Army’s tough net defense as they foil PLDT’s Gretchel Soltones’ attack in the opener of the Shakey’s V-League Season 12 Open Conference finals at The Arena in San Juan yesterday.(pr photo)

Games Sunday
9 a.m. – Cagayan Valley vs Meralco
12:45 p.m. – Army vs PLDT

Army fought back from a blowout loss in the first set with a pair of gutsy escapes in the next two before imposing its will in the fourth to carve out a 13-25, 25-23, 27-25, 25-22 victory over erstwhile unbeaten PLDT Home Ultera yesterday and move within a win from keeping the Shakey’s V-League Open Conference crown before a big crowd at The Arena in San Juan yesterday.
Jovelyn Gonzaga and Dindin Manabat, two of the league’s power hitters who were relegated to the background by the overpowering show of Alyssa Valdez and the rest of the Ultra Fast Hitters from the elims to the semis, finally showed the fierce form expected of them, firing a pair of 16 hits to power the Lady Troopers past the stunned PLDT side.
It was Army’s first win over the young but talent-laden PLDT crew in three meetings in the conference of Season 12 of the league sponsored by Shakey’s. But it came at the most opportune time – Game One of a best-of-three series tipped to go PLDT’s way following the Ultra Fast Hitters’ impressive sweep of the elims and the Final Four.
But the Lady Troopers had other things in mind. Relying on their vast championship experience and bench depth, they came out strong from an embarrassing first-set defeat with Gonzaga and Manabat imposing their will on the net and veteran Nerissa Bautista coming through with key plays that helped anchor Army’s victory.
“Our championship experience helped us,” said Army coach Rico de Guzman, whose wards have made it to the Open finals four times, winning twice, including last year when they swept the Cagayan Valley Lady Rising Suns.
Swept by PLDT in their first two clashes this conference, Army tries to return the compliment as the Lady Troopers seek to wrap it all up in Game Two on Sunday to be aired live on GMA News TV Channel 11 starting at 12:45 p.m., according to the organizing Sports Vision.
Army also denied PLDT’s bid for a historic sweep of the season-opening conference of the league presented by PLDT Home Ultera and backed by Mikasa and Accel.
Valdez still spewed fire and scored 25 hits, including 22 on kills, despite shuttling between the Ateneo, PLDT and national team practices the last few days. But the power-hitting Ateneo standout could only do so much against a well-balanced Army side determined to keep the crown.
In contrast, Manabat, Jovelyn Gonzaga and Rachel Ann Daquis, also members of the national team, came into the match fresher after skipping national team training at the Blue Eagle Gym the day before although Daquis saw action only in the first two sets and finished with a lone hit.
The Ultra Fast Lady Spikers went on attack mode early, taking control in the opening set to cruise to victory. But the Lady Troopers re-grouped and took a 20-15 lead in the second and fended off PLDT, which took eight of the next 12 points including a service ace that pushed it closer, 23-24. A drop shot by Gonzaga, however, enabled Army to hack out the win and level the match.
The two teams fought it out in a back-and-forth third set before PLDT regained a 20-18 advantage and Army roared back behind Gonzaga and Manabat, who blocked younger sister Jaja’s spike to steal the set and go 2-1.
Cagayan Valley warded off Meralco’s tough stand in all three sets and fashioned out a 25-23, 25-21, 25-23 to likewise gain a headstart in their own best-of-three series for third in the league where it all started.
Janine Marciano carried the Lady Rising Suns’ scoring brunt with a 17-hit effort while former MVP Aiza Maizo-Pontillas and Rosemarie Vargas backed her up with 16 and 13 points, respectively, and Pau Soriano, Marivic Meneses and setter Relea Saet combined for 18 hits.
Faye Guevara topscored for Meralco with 14 hits as top hitter Aby Maraño was held to just nine and Steph Mercado and Charleen Cruz struggled with seven and six points, respectively.(pr)

 PLDT’s Jaja Santiago towers over MJ Balse and Tina Salak of Army but the Lady Troopers came out on top over the Ultra Fast Hitters in the opener of the Shakey’s V-League Season 12 Open Conference finals at The Arena in San Juan yesterday.(pr photo)

PLDT’s Jaja Santiago towers over MJ Balse and Tina Salak of Army but the Lady Troopers came out on top over the Ultra Fast Hitters in the opener of the Shakey’s V-League Season 12 Open Conference finals at The Arena in San Juan yesterday.(pr photo)

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