La Salle took advantage of the absence of open spiker Maru Banaticla in the deciding fifth set to escape with a 25-18, 25-20, 19-25, 16-25, 15-10 win over defending champion University of Santo Tomas and move closer in regaining the title in the UAAP women’s volleyball tournament Wednesday at the Filoil Flying V Arena in San Juan.
The Tigresses were able to send the game to a decider, but the España-based spikers sorely missed the hard-hitting spikes of Banaticla, who suffered cramps late in the fourth frame.
“I guess yung pagkawala ni Maru (Banaticla), yun ang naging turning point ng game. Kung nandiyan pa siya, baka nag-iba ang kuwento ng laro,” said Lady Archers mentor Ramil de Jesus.
Jacq Alarca unloaded 19 hits, including four service aces, while Michelle Gumabao, Abigail Maraño and Stephanie Mercado added 13 points apiece for La Salle.
Leading MVP contender Aiza Maizo uncorked 20 hits while Banaticla was still able to finish with 19 hits, including four service aces, for the Tigresses. Cha Cruz contributed 11 points and 11 digs for La Salle.
The Lady Spikers can clinch their sixth league title with another win in Game 2 slated on Saturday.
A kill by Maizo gave the Tigresses its last lead of the match, 5-4. La Salle was able to pull away at 9-6 after a Maraño hit when UST scored three straight points, highlighted by a left-handed kill by Maizo to last tie the count at 9-9.
But this was the best the Tigresses can offer, as Maika Ortiz committed a service error followed by a block by Alarca, two successive hits by Cruz and a Maizo attacking error for the Lady Spikers to take a 14-9 spread. Maizo connected a kill for UST to inch closer to 10-14 before reserve Verlyn Bernal misfired on her serve for La Salle to clinch the match point.
It was the third straight five-set win for the Lady Spikers, who finished with a 13-1 record in the elims.
“Breaks lang ang nagpanalo sa amin. Pinahirapan kami ni Banaticla sa third at fourth set,” said de Jesus.