June 06, 2024

Marck Espejo propels Alas Men to clash for ninth place

In a thrilling showdown at the Isa Sport City Hall in Bahrain, Marck Espejo and Alas Pilipinas secured their first victory in the 2024 AVC Challenge Cup for Men, edging out a spirited Indonesian side 25-23, 23-25, 25-14, 25-22 on Wednesday evening (Manila time). This win propels them to the battle for ninth place.

Espejo was the standout performer, leading Alas with 20 points from 17 attacks, two aces, and a block. The Philippines, having dropped to the classification round after losses to China and the host team in pool play, will face the defending champions Thailand on Friday at 7 p.m. (Manila time) in a bid to improve on their 10th-place finish from last year's Challenge Cup.

"We're very happy because of the win. We're gonna improve our blockings even more and execute our transitions better in the next game," said middle blocker Kim Malabunga, who added 12 points, including six of the team's 15 blocks.

Nico Almendras, who had a quiet pool play with just one point, came alive in the fourth set, contributing four points in a crucial 8-1 run that transformed an 8-10 deficit into a 16-11 lead. This surge proved pivotal in securing the breakthrough victory.

Indonesia mounted a late rally to close within two points at 21-23, but Jade Disquitado's off-the-block kill and a down-the-line hit from Almendras sealed the win in an intense one-hour and 54-minute match.

The Philippines, struggling in the preliminaries with straight-set losses, finally found their rhythm. Six-foot-six opposite hitter Leo Ordiales delivered the final two points in the first set for a 25-23 win, although Indonesia fought back to level the match with their own 25-23 win in the second.

However, Alas Pilipinas regained control in the third set. Leading narrowly at 16-14, they unleashed a nine-point streak, with contributions from Malabunga, Disquitado, and Espejo, along with Indonesian errors, to clinch the set 25-14.

Almendras, playing only in the final two sets, tallied 10 points, six of which came in the decisive fourth set. Disquitado also shone, scoring 12 points after replacing Jau Umandal from the second set onward.

For Indonesia, 19-year-old Yohanes Prasasti led with 18 points, while the 16-year-old Fauzan Nibras added 12 points in a valiant effort.