MANILA, Philippines – Cignal took the best Cotabato dished out, but the HD Spikers proved yet again that they’re the superior squad.
Led by Finals MVP Marck Espejo, Cignal hacked out a grueling five-set victory over Cotabato, 25-21, 22-25, 25-17, 28-30, 15-7, to reclaim the Spikers’ Turf Open Conference crown on Friday, March 31, at the Rizal Memorial Coliseum.
Espejo unloaded 26 points, including 23 kills, and Wendel Miguel also grabbed a share of the spotlight in the decider as the HD Spikers completed a conference sweep.
Miguel fired 16 points, including four straight that fueled the HD Spikers’ breakaway from a tight 4-3 count to an 8-5 cushion in the fifth set.
Espejo then took over with an off-the-block hit and a stinging kill for a five-point bulge.
While Cignal came through the clutch, the Cotabato Spikers fell apart with mishits and botched plays, the last a setting error that all but settled the issue, 14-5.
Cotabato saved two championship points but EJ Casana wittingly went to Chumason Njigha in the ensuing play as the former focused its defense on a possible big Espejo closeout.
And the Fil-Nigerian delivered a stinging quick hit in an open spot that finished off Cotabato, capping the HD Spikers’ unbeaten run since Cignal swept Santa Rosa to kick off its campaign last January 27.
JP Bugaoan (15 points) and skipper Ysay Marasigan (12 points) also delivered for the HD Spikers, who took Game 1 in a in a tight three-set affair, 25-22, 25-22, 28-26.
“I give all the credit to the players, and the coaching staff,” said Cignal coach Dexter Clamor after steering the team to its fourth championship. “It’s all about effort and sacrifices, that’s why we became champions.”
“We sacrificed a lot this conference,” said Clamor, adding that the HD Spikers’ failed bid in the finals against the National U Bulldogs last year motivated them to reclaim the crown.
Njigha added 9 points for Cignal, which beat Cotabato four times in the conference.
It was a sorry setback for Cotabato, which showed guts and a big fighting heart despite the absence of of Jau Umandal, the conference MVP who got sidelined due to injury late in the fourth set.
Cotabato’s Madzlan Gampong stepped up in the fourth with a cluster of hits as the Spikers overcame a 19-21 deficit without their top hitter to drag the HD Spikers to 16 deadlocks.
Gampong unloaded another hit to shatter the 28-all count then the Cotabato Spikers foiled Miguel’s attack to force a decider.
The HD Spikers, however, banked on their vast championship experience to overpower their rivals in the clutch with Miguel scoring on a kill block, an off-the-block hit, and back-to-back kills to give Cignal an 8-5 cushion in the fifth.
Espejo followed up with back-to-back hits and the HD Spikers took the next two points on their rivals’ attack errors, then Miguel produced an ace that put the outcome beyond doubt, 13-5.
Umandal actually returned in the fifth set but the former national team mainstay proved far from being his old self although he accounted for two of Cotabato’s measly seven-point output in the decider.
Earlier, Imus smothered Iloilo with an imposing 25-19, 25-18, 25-21 victory and took the bronze medal.
The D’Navigators won Game 1 of their side of the best-of-three series, 25-21, 23-25, 21-25, 22-25, but the AJAA Spikers grabbed third place honors with a superior set ratio.
Umandal, the former University of Santo Tomas star, captured the MVP plum after finishing in the top five in all scoring categories.
The 25-year-old was the second leading scorer of the tournament after the semifinals, tallying a total of 236 points on 203 attacks, 22 blocks, and 11 aces.
Umandal also finished third in the spiking department (45.82%), fourth in blocking (0.47 per set), and fourth in serving (0.23 per set).
Iloilo’s Jade Disquitado and Cignal’s Miguel were awarded the Best Outside Hitters while teammate Marasigan nabbed the Best Opposite Spiker award.
Disquitado, the conference top scorer, finished with a total of 293 points on 270 attacks, 12 blocks, and 11 service aces while Miguel placed 10th in scoring with 122 points built on 109 attacks, 9 blocks, and 4 aces.
Marasigan, meanwhile, tallied 110 points off 95 attacks, 8 blocks, and 7 aces to finish 13th in scoring.
Cignal’s Bugaoan and Mfena Gwaza of the D’Navigators took home the Best Middle Blocker awards while Cignal’s Manuel Sumanguid III and Iloilo’s JM Apolinario won Best Libero and Best Setter, respectively. – Rappler.com
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