National U-Sta. Elena achieved the unthinkable, overcoming a 1-2 set deficit with a gem of an endgame in the fourth and a dominating performance in the decider as it hacked out a 22-25, 25-22, 21-25, 25-22, 15-8 verdict over Cignal to crown itself the inaugural Spikers’ Turf Invitational champion at the Filoil EcoOil Centre in San Juan Friday night.
The Nationals lost the battle in spikes, 71-76, but outclassed the HD Spikers in blocks, 16-9, that mattered most in a highly-charged match that went down to net defense and execution in the end.
Coach Dante Alinsunurin credited his players for their tenacity, highlighting their ability to persevere through challenges with the victory serving as redemption for NU, which rebounded after struggles in its last two tournaments and preventing Cignal’s bid for perfection, a potential 25-game sweep of the two titles this year, counting its 15-game romp in the Open Conference last March.
“Credit sa mga players ko, tinyaga talaga nila,” said Alinsunurin. “Medyo nag-struggle sa laro pero nakuha pa din.”
Disquitado capped his big night with a 34-point explosion, including 31 on attacks, while Almendras finished with 20 points and Leo Aringo Jr. and Obed Mukaba added 10 and nine markers, respectively, for the Nationals.
Joshua Retamar also produced 25 excellent sets against counterpart EJ Casana’s 23.
Jau Umandal and JP Bugaoan fired 23 and 20 points, respectively, for Cignal, which also drew 17 points from Ysay Marasigan and a combined 24-point output from Chumasson Njigha, Wendel Miguel and Lloyd Josafat.
The Nationals showcased their mettle in the fourth and equalized with a strong finishing kick that snapped a long stretch of tied scores from 10 to 20. They went on to overpower the fancied HD Spikers in the fifth set with outstanding performances from Disquitado and Almendras coupled with an imposing net defense that proved pivotal in securing the two-hour and 13-minute victory.
So solid was NU’s control of the net that it produced a pair of back-to-back kill blocks, the first two courtesy of Disquitado and Mukaba that gave the Nationals a 5-2 cushion, a luxury in a grudge match between two of the league’s top teams.
The Nationals maintained their lead while displaying composure and skills as they built a huge 11-5 advantage with consecutive blocks off Marasigan and Josafat.
Almendras then took over with back-to-back hits to all but settle the outcome, 13-7, and Disquitado capped his brilliant performance with a power hit off a broken play and the Nationals secured the win by doing what they do best – foil Umandal’s final assault.
Cignal was poised to do a reprise of a title sweep when it dominated the pool elims and the semis, including a shutout victory over the Nationals last Dec. 6.
But the Nationals had other things in mind.
Despite trailing 1-2 in the first three sets, NU never wavered, matching Cignal spike-for-spike and side-outs-for-side-outs in the fourth.
Leo Ordiales, who finished with six points along with Retamar, and Aringo, Jr. then scored the next two points for NU and Almendras and Disquitado followed suit to negate the lone Cignal point delivered by Bugaoan for a 24-21 NU lead.
Bugaoan scored on a quick attack to save a set point but the high-flying Disquitado came through with his 29th point to force the decider.
The match appeared destined for a stirring finish after two deadlocks but Disquitado’s back-to-back points in varying fashions propelled the Nationals to a 6-2 lead, which they maintained until the end.
Meanwhile, Letran’s Vince Himzon captured the MVP honors after leading the Saints Spikers to a fourth place finish.
The 6-foot-1 middle blocker was second in scoring in the second round with 61 points built on 48 spikes on a 56.47-percent success rate (#1) and second in blocks with 12 at an average of 0.80 per set (#2).
Joining him in the "Elite Team" is teammate Bem-Bem Bautista, who won the Best Outside Spiker award after ranking third in scoring with 58.
Three HD Spikers made it to the team, including Bugaoan (Best Middle Blocker), Umandal (Best Outside Spiker), and Manuel Sumanguid (Best Libero).
This was Bugaoan’s sixth Best Middle trophy and Umandal’s first Outside Spiker award after winning two Opposite plums, and Sumanguid’s fifth Libero award.
Retamar, on the other hand, took the Best Setter honors and while Ordiales nabbed the Best Opposite Spiker award.