PLDT downs Systema to bag first PSL men's title
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The PLDT myDSL Speed Boosters made history for men's volleyball by being the first champions of the men's division in the country's first commercial volleyball league, the Philippine Super Liga Grand Prix.
PLDT defeated an inspired Systema Tooth & Gum Care Smashers in an exciting, fast-paced match that went the distance – 28-26, 25-16, 20-25, 22-25, and 16-14 – before a loud crowd at the Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig.
PLDT had a chance to put away Systema in straight sets but could not finish the job as the Smashers climbed back from a 2-0 hole to extend the contest to a deciding fifth set.
It was a game of momentum and runs as the Speed Boosters controlled the tempo of the match at the onset and attacked their way to a momentum-building first set win.
Seeing how close they could have come to bagging the opening canto for themselves, Systema looked deflated in the following period as they allowed PLDT to have their way on offense for a commanding 25-16 win.
At that point, Systema was struggling to defend every inch of the floor, while PLDT looked splendid on all fronts. But that quickly changed as Systema scored the first 3 points of the third.
Body languages shifted as it was Systema's turn to get on a roll and begin piling up confident kills from Michael Zamora and AJ Pareja.
They pulled away late in the third, 22-17, as PLDT hurt themselves with service errors.
Systema carried their momentum to the fourth set, executing multiple combination plays and showing PLDT how much they wanted to win. PLDT, on the other hand, was looking flat and disorganized, forcing the issue throughout rallies. They also had mishaps on defense and couldn't find answers to Systema's main gunners.
Last two sets
"Kasalanan na rin siguro ng buong team kasi nag-relax masyado ng 3rd and 4th set," PLDT head coach Francis Vicente admitted after the match. (It's the fault of the entire team because we relaxed in the third and fourth set.)
An Angelo Espiritu attack that coursed between the blockers was too much to handle for PLDT's Dominico Lucindo as it gave Systema set point in the fourth, 24-19. But PLDT pushed back with a Henry Pecaña crosscourt attack to stay alive. However, they eventually surrendered the set with a service error that went long.
PLDT then fired up their engines in the final set, attacking at will and utilizing their blockers to stop Systema's attackers.
"Pag dating ng fifth set, siguro na-realize na matatalo na so kailangan mag-step up," Vicente said of the change in PLDT's demeanor on the court in that final period. "So nagbago ng pwestuhan, nag-step up lahat, gumanda."
(When the fifth set came, perhaps we realized that we could lose so we needed to step up. We switched positions, everybody stepped up, and it became better.)
But as PLDT built a comfortable cushion, 12-8, Zamora took over for Systema and gave PLDT a scare. He scored two consecutive points on emphatic kills behind a boisterous crowd.
Zamora was PLDT's thorn all game long as he was creative with his attacks, switching it up from all-power hits to drop balls over blockers and even exploiting hits off the block for points.
"Sabi ko na lang sasarili ko, ito na yung finals. This is the time na pwedeng ako naman," Zamora, shared. "Hindi ko sinabi sa sarili ko na ako na lang lahat. Hinintay ko lang na dumating yung time na ako na talaga yung mag-shine."
(I just told myself that this is the finals. This is the time that it could be my turn. I didn't force it and tell myself I'll do it all. I just waited for my time to come, when I would finally shine.)
Zamora shone brightly as he had a game-high 21 points on 18 kills and two service aces.
The last time Systema threatened, 13-12, was on a Sylvester Honrade drop ball following a miscommunication on the side of PLDT when they thought play had been stopped. But Pecaña's next hit caught the line, setting PLDT up for championship point.
A service error by Lucindo and an attack by Patrick Rojas tied things up at 14 for the deuce. Eventually, PLDT did what it does best and targeted Systema's weak spot in the middle with a solid spike from Alnasip Laja. PLDT's winning point came from a Rojas attack that went wide.
"Masayang masaya kasi kami yung history na unang nag-champion sa ligang ito," said Vicente, a former head coach of the National University Lady Bulldogs. (We're very happy because we made history as the first champion in the men's division.)
Meanwhile, there was no disappointment on the part of Systema head coach Kim Rebong despite the loss. He believes his team gave a good fight. "Hindi namin inexpect na makakaabot kami ng finals kaya okay naman kami," he said. (We didn't expect to reach the finals so we're okay about it.)
He also commended his wards for playing well.
"Okay lang naman yung nilaro namin eh kaya lang talagang ganoon, may nananalo may natatalo," Rebong explained. "Nung bandang huli nawalan kami ng receive so hindi kami naka-focus sa spiking namin, pati blocking lumulusot sila." (We played well but that's the reality, someone wins and someone loses. In the end we lost our receive so we weren't able to focus on our spiking, and they also powered through our blocking.)
Pareja and Rojas chipped in 15 and 12 points, respectively, for their team.
Kheeno Franco led the Speed Boosters with 14 points, while Jayson Ramos and Pecaña added 13 and 11, respectively.
Franco was also awarded the Most Valuable Player plum during the awarding ceremonies.
Other recipients of individual awards in the men's division are the following:
1st Best Outside Spiker: Salvador Depante III (Giligan's)
2nd Best Outside Spiker: Jasper Adorador (Maybank)
1st Best Middle Blocker: AJ Pareja (Systema)
2nd Best Middle Blocker: Sylvester Honrade (Systema)
Best Opposite: Henry Pecaña (PLDT)
Best Setter: Rolando Casillan (PLDT)
Best Libero: Gilbert Longavela (PLDT)