December 15, 2023

Kawagoe explodes as Maruichi outlasts Saints and Lattes-Letran for bronze

Maruichi Hyogo capped its late surge with a thrilling 20-25, 25-16, 25-21, 22-25, 15-11 victory over Saints and Lattes-Letran in a one-game duel for the bronze medal in the Spikers’ Turf Invitational Conference at the Filoil EcoOil Centre in San Juan City Friday.

The visiting Japanese squad dropped its first three games to Cignal, Letran and National U but toppled Perpetual in the last semis playdate to earn a shot at third place against Letran.

The Saints Spikers lorded it over their youthful rivals in the opening set but the Japanese took the next two before yielding the fourth to set the stage for a winner-take-all set.

Yuji Kawagoe took over in the decider, dropping nine of his 32 points. So impressive was his spiking efficiency that he made 31 of his 55 attempts. He also tallied one block and produced 21 excellent receptions. 

Vince Himzon tried to rally Letran with back-to-back points on a quick kill and an ace as the Saints Spikers threatened at 10-12. But Kawagoe responded with two straight attacks to put Hyogo at match point. 

Bembem Bautista saved one for Letran with a power blast but Kawagoe soared again for an off-the-block attack as the Japanese finished off the Saints Spikers in one hour and 58 minutes to clinch third place honors in the season-ending conference of the league organized by Sports Vision. 

"They showed their fighting spirit. This was the first time we went to fifth set and we are happy we showed our hearts. We feel very happy for this third place," said Maruichi head coach Kota Kunichika through an interpreter. 

The Japanese guest team thus avenged its loss to Letran last Saturday, 25-23, 13-25, 23-25, 20-25. 

Kyosuke Kashimoto backed Kawagoe with 23 points on 19 spikes, three aces and a block, while team captain Hinata Kuroda added 18 points for Maruichi, which expressed its desire to return and compete again against the local teams.

Kyosuke Maruyama tossed 31 excellent sets while libero Ren Wakamatu shone with 17 receptions and 11 digs.

"The volleyball here is different compared to Japan. The players gained a lot of experience here. We want to come back to Spikers' Turf in the future," said Kunichika. 

Middle blocker Himzon paced the Saint Spikers with 21 points on 19 spikes and two aces, while Bautista finished with 11 points.