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MANILA, Philippines – Against all odds, Bryan Bagunas delivered when his country needed him.
Fighting for survival in the 2019 Southeast Asian Games against the reigning four-time champion Thailand, the Philippine men’s volleyball team achieved the improbable and survived for a stunning five-set escape act in the semifinal round.
Fittingly enough, it was Bagunas who delivered the dethroning blow in the frantic final frame as he finished with a team-high 27 points off 23 attacks.
But after helping the program end a 42-year championship match drought in the biennial meet, the former National University star said he drew his strength from powers greater than his own.
“Kasama namin si Lord nung naglalaro kasi umaga pa lang sumadya kami sa church para sa game na ‘to kasi sobrang mahalaga tong game na ‘to sa amin,” he said in the post-game presser.
“Sobrang nakaka-proud kasi ilang years na sila nagcha-champion tapos tinalo namin sila.
“Doon lumabas yung skills ng bawat isa kaya talagang sobrang saya. Hindi namin maexplain yung saya namin.”
(The Lord was with us when we played because we went to church this morning just for this match because this is so important for us. We’re really proud because Thailand has been champion for so many years and we beat them. Everyone’s skills was in full display so I’m really happy. We can’t explain our happiness.)
The Philippines was practically dead in the water after going down at match point in the 4th set, 21-24.
However, thanks to his teammates Marck Espejo, Kim Malabunga and Rex Intal, the national team forced a decider against the mighty 6-foot-8 Thai-Malian Kissida Nilsawai and late sub Amorntep Konhan.
There, Bagunas and the rest went blow-by-blow with the Thais until the Filipinos ultimately prevailed to rewrite history in the SEA Games.
Despite enduring the pressure of delivering in front of 6,700 screaming fans at the PhilSports Arena, Bagunas just focused on the fact that his team was so close to upsetting the undisputed kings of Southeast Asian volleyball.
“Tinatak ko sa isip ko na nandun na ako, ba’t pa ako bibitaw?” he said. “Tapos eto na yung chance para makalaban kami ng championship kaya talagang tinibayan ko lang sa loob ng court dahil kung ano man yung mangyari talagang lalaban kami.”
“Parang yun sinasabi nilang pusong Pinoy.”
(I just kept in mind that I was already there, so why would I let go? This is our chance to battle for the championship so I just composed myself inside the court because whatever happens, we will fight. This is the Pinoy heart that they’re talking about.)
Now that the Philippines has fixed a rematch against Indonesia for the gold medal on Tuesday, December 10, Bagunas is more than ready to go out soaring once more with the country flag waving behind him.
“Siyempre yung motivation namin ay itong pagkapanalo namin dito,” he said. “Talagang pinaghirapan namin. Siyempre dito sa semifinals binuhos na namin. Ano pa sa finals diba?
“Talagang ibubuhos na namin yung makakaya namin para sa Pilipinas.”
(Of course, our motivation is this win tonight. We really worked hard for this. We already brought everything we had in the semifinals. What more when the finals come, right? We’ll really pour out everything we can for the Philippines.) – Rappler.com