Imus-Ivy Tuason Photography averted a meltdown as it weathered Philippine Navy’s comeback attempt to essay a 25-20, 25-16, 21-25, 21-25, 15-12, win in the Spikers’ Turf Open Conference on Friday at the Paco Arena in Manila.
Kim Malabunga rebounded from a lackluster outing in the AJAA Spikers’ previous loss with clutch plays in the tight fifth set that allowed the Sammy Acaylar-mentored squad to recover from an early four-point deficit and eventually get back in the win column.
“We just applied what we practiced after our loss to Cignal,” Malabunga said after leading Imus to its third win in four games.
A member of the national team that won silver in the 2019 Southeast Asian Games, Malabunga scored 15 points including four in the fifth set. He smashed 11 kills, had three kill blocks and an ace for the AJAA Spikers, who flirted with disaster after taking the first two sets.
“We felt that we relaxed just like what happened during our game against Cignal. Good thing we were able to recover,” Malabunga said.
The Sea Lions fueled by their comeback in the third and fourth sets behind the efforts of Greg Dolor and Jude Garcia raced to a 5-2 lead in the deciding frame.
Imus quickly countered with five straight points for a 7-5 advantage following back-to-back errors by Garcia and Dolor. After Garcia stopped Navy’s bleeding Malabunga scored consecutive points at the net to put Imus ahead by three, 9-6.
The Sea Lions fought back as Dolor tied the game at 11 only to see the AJAA Spikers string three straight points to move at match point, 14-11, off an Ish Rivera off the block hit.
Christian Marcelino saved a matchpoint but Hero Austria put it away with a kill.
Austria finished with 14 points, Ridzuan Muhali had 13 while Josh Villanueva added 11 for Imus.
“I always tell my players not to be complacent. But they really have that tendency to relax whenever we’re ahead. What I did was I gave some motivation,” Acaylar said.
“In the fifth set, I told them to use their mental toughness and I told them they’re all smart. They must use that in the fifth set,” he added.
The Sea Lions dropped to a 1-2 card.
Garcia had 21 points, Dolor posted 20 while Marcelino had 10 markers in a losing effort for Navy.