MANILA, Philippines -- Marck Espejo and Cignal schooled University of Perpetual Help once more, taking a 25-15, 25-18, 25-17 victory to secure the first seat in the 2019 Spikers' Turf Open Conference finals, Tuesday at Paco Arena.
The four-time MVP tallied 14 points built on 11 attacks, a pair of kill blocks, and an ace along with 12 excellent receptions and six digs for Cignal, which extended its unbeaten streak to eight games.
"I think it's all about preparation kasi kahit medyo na-dominate namin 'yung first game, hindi talaga kami tumigil," said Cignal head coach Dexter Clamor. "Nag-viewing pa rin kami, pinanood namin 'yung mga lapses namin, kung ano ;yung mga errors namin kaya handa kami."
After breezing through the first two sets, the HD Spikers were slowed down by the Altas in the third frame. That, however, did not stop Cignal from bagging the game in three sets.
Down by a solitary point in the third frame, Espejo, along with Wendel Miguel and Ysay Marasigan, took turns in pummeling down hits to give the HD Spikers a four-point lead, 16-12.
Looking to close things up, Alfred Valbuena and Aj Pareja took over and extended Cignal's lead to seven points. Valbuena then fired back-to-back hits to finish the set.
Valbuena and Miguel provided eight and seven points, respectively, while Edmar Bonono, Marasigan, and Pareja had six points apiece.
Perpetual, who closed its Spikers' Turf campaign with two consecutive losses, was led by Kennry Malinis with eight points.
Reigning NCAA MVP Joebert Almodiel was held down to just two points in three sets of play. He also tallied 10 excellent receptions and four digs in the process.
Air Force drags Sta. Elena to a decider
In the other game, Go for Gold-Air Force leaned on Ranran Abdilla to outlast Sta. Elena-NU in four sets, 26-24, 25-23, 19-25, 25-18, and send their best-of-three semis series in the 2019 Spikers' Turf Open Conference semifinals to a rubber match.
Abdilla was all over the place against the Ball Hammers, firing 18 points built on 15 attacks, two kill blocks, and an ace along with 19 excellent receptions.
"Receive lang talaga, kasi kung may first ball kami ang opensa namin maganda e. ‘Pag 'di kami nakaka-receive nahihirapan 'yung setter namin so 'yun talaga 'yung main adjustment namin," said Air Force assistant coach Rhovyl Verayo.
After controlling the first two frames, the Jet Spikers lost their momentum in the third set, which paved the way for the Ball Hammers to extend the game to four sets.
Locked at 10-all in the fourth set, Joshua Retamar committed a service error and lifting violation in consecutive plays which tipped the scales to Air Force's side.
Capitalizing on the Ball Hammers' errors, Fauzi Ismail led a 6-1 rally to give his side a comfortable 16-11 cushion.
It was all Air Force from there, as the lead ballooned up to seven points off a Madz Gampong kill. A net infraction from the Ball Hammers then sealed their fate.
Kim Malabunga poured 15 points in the victory, while Gampong chipped in 13 markers and nine excellent receptions for the Jet Spikers, who dropped their first game of the series.
Francis Saura manned the net with four blocks for eight points, while Rikko Marmeto patrolled the floor with 15 excellent digs.
Air Force skipper Jessie Lopez dished out 31 excellent sets while also tallying 10 digs.
Nico Almendras paced Sta. Elena with 21 points, while James Natividad had 16 points in a losing cause.
Game 3 will be on Thursday, October 17, at the same venue.
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