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PLDT clips resilient Army, takes Reinforced Conference crown

As in the finals of the Open Conference last summer, the PLDT Home Ultera Ultra Fast Hitters still have the Philippine Army Lady Troopers’ number, ousting them in the Finals with a 25-21, 25-22, 22-25, 25-21 victory to bag the Shakeys V-League Reinforced Conference crown at the FilOil Flying V Arena, Sunday afternoon.

Starting with high intensity, especially given what was at stake, both teams played a tough first set. Still, PLDT held a 22-20 lead in the latter part of the first set, as the Ultra Fast Hitters’ towering imports Sareena Freeman and Victoria Hurtt put the finishing touches to take the first set.

Both teams continued to hammer out attacks in the following set, leading to a 20-all deadlock. Gretchel Soltones (who was playing her fifth game in seven days as she is also seeing action in the NCAA volleyball tournament with the San Sebastian Lady Stags) unloaded a quick hit to give PLDT a 21-20 lead. Alyssa Valdez followed it with an ace and a back row attack to further increase the lead at 23-20. Remy Palma trimmed the deficit by scoring two straight points for Army, 23-22, but Valdez once again unloaded a back row attack to restore the two-point edge, 24-22. An error from Army gave PLDT a two sets to none advantage.

Desperate to extend the match and the series, the Lady Troopers managed to take the lead midway through the set, with Abi Marano unloading a quick hit for a slim 16-14 lead. An exchange of attacks from both sides led to a 20-all tie. Reinforced Conference MVP Jovelyn Gonzaga, alongside Palma, give Army a glimmer of hope by taking the set and extending the match.

Valdez went down in the fourth set as she collide with Roces when they both attempted to dig a ball, and she was immediately subbed out for Janine Marciano. PLDT were able to remain in the driver’s seat, as Soltones and Freeman delivered to prevent Army from creating any momentum. Shrugging off the knock she picked up earlier, Valdez took over in the latter part of the set, giving PLDT a 22-20 lead. Joanna Bunag saved another point for Army, scoring on a drop shot for 22-21 disadvantage. Afterwards, Sasa Devanadera scored through the block for a 23-21 lead for to the Ultra Fast Hitters. Unfortunately for Army, Gonzaga and Marano committed two attacks errors that sealed PLDT’s second Shakeys V-League crown this year and gave their coach, Roger Gorayeb, his third title in the league.

In his post-game interview, Gorayeb shrugged off his Triple Crown achievement, claiming he hadn’t really thought about it until it was brought up to him by the media.

“Di ko inisip yung (Triple Crown). Inisip ko manalo, para masaya sponsor namin, yung PLDT. Para sumali ulit next year. Basta magchampion lang naman. Bonus lang yun, hindi ko nga alam eh. Ay salamat, naka tatlong championship na pala ako ngayong taon na ito sa Shakey’s.”

Valdez, who was awarded the Finals MVP of the series, once again led PLDT with 22 points along with five digs, while Freeman bounced back from her dismal first game performance with 17 markers. Roces and Soltones combined for 20 points to support the offensive firepower of the Ultra Fast Hitters.

Marano topscored the Lady Troopers with 14 points together with 11 digs, while Gonzaga had 13 points. In the battle of the veteran setters, PLDT’s Rubie De Leon outplayed Army’s Tina Salak with 28 excellent sets against the latter’s 24.

The Scores:

PLDT (3) – Valdez 22, Freeman 17, Soltones 10, Roces 10, Devanadera 6, Hurtt 5, De Leon 4, Pontillas 0, Marciano 0, Latigay 0, Pantone(L)

PHI Army (1) – Marano 14, Gonzaga 13, Bunag 9, Palma 8, Tubino 7, Salak 4, Balse 1, Bautista 1, Nunag 0, Torres (L) , Agno (L)

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