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Troopers stay alive

Army-Katinko recovered from a fourth-set struggle with a fiery start in the decider then blitzed Santa Rosa with a barrage of hits to hack out a 25-21, 22-25, 25-20, 17-25, 15-6 decision and stave off elimination in the Spikers’ Turf Open Conference Thursday, 15 September at the Paco Arena in Manila.

Madz Gampong delivered what could be a big farewell performance for the Troopers, unloading 22 points with 13 attack points and seven kill blocks while Benjaylo Labide took charge in the clutch, spearheading the team’s strong finish that saw them break from a tight 6-5 lead en route to the nine-point win.

While it was Army’s only first victory after four straight losses, it revived the Troopers’ bid for the last semifinal berth as it tied its victim at sixth, just a couple of games behind fourth-running VNS-One Alicia and half-a-game off fifth-running Ateneo-Fudgee Barr.

But to force a playoff, the Troopers must hurdle their last assignment against the Griffins on Tuesday and hope VNS would also drop its match against unbeaten Navy tomorrow.

Ateneo, meanwhile, could clinch an outright semis seat with a sweep of its last two games but against two of the league’s most fancied teams — Cignal and Sta. Elena.

“We really wanted to win,” said Gampong, who was scheduled to head home for Tawi-Tawi on Saturday but later hinted at extending his stay to help anchor Army’s most crucial game against VNS.

Experience and poise prevailed over firepower and hustle in the end as the Troopers racked up the first three points in the decider and sat on a couple of four-point cushions before the hard-hitting Gampong’s service miscue put the City Lions back in the game at 5-6.

But Labide scored on an off-balanced push, hammered a down-the-line hit off Santa Rosa’s poor reception that came after the City Lions’ attack error and Tony Torres scored on a quick hit to give the Troopers a 10-5 cushion.

Labide stretched the lead to six with another kill and the Troopers built a huge lead on another Santa Rosa mishit.

Gampong made another attack error but that hardly mattered as the Troopers scored the next three to close out the City Lions, capped by Labide’s power hit that hit the arms of a Santa Rosa defender and outside of Army’s side court.

Labide finished with 20 points while PJ Rojas and JD Diwa combined for 23 points as the Troopers spoiled Jade Disquitado’s another explosive game of 22 points, including 20 attack points.

Dave Lardizabal scored 12 points while Sean Labrador and Gab Hernandez added 11 and 10 points, respectively, for Santa Rosa, who barely outhit Army, 58-57, but had answer for the Troopers’ solid blocking, 2-13.

Army also produced nine aces, four more than Santa Rosa.

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