Reigning champion National University weathered the furious fightback by University of Santo Tomas to book a 25-23, 25-22, 21-25, 29-31, 15-11 victory in Game 1 of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines Season 85 men’s volleyball best-of-three finals series yesterday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The Bulldogs flirted with disaster after squandering a two-set lead but were able to survive a seesaw battle in the fifth set with a little help from the Golden Spikers’ costly errors that created the separation.
NU, who remained unbeaten in the return of the competition after a three-year pandemic hiatus, can close the championship series on Sunday at the same venue.
“It was a very exciting game. Both teams gave their best in every set. It’s a relief we were able to pull away late in the fifth set,” NU coach Dante Alinsunurin said.
“We had problems on our offense in some sets. UST committed some crucial errors that allowed us to rally. Hopefully, we can sustain our game and claim the title on Sunday.”
Rookie Buds Buddin was on fire on offense and engaged the Golden Spikers’ Josh Ybañez in a shootout of top neophyte wingers.
But it was Buddin and the Bulldogs who emerged on top to claim their 33rd straight win since 2019 and move a win shy of completing a rare three-peat.
Buddin dropped a team-high 26 points built on 24 kills, one ace and a kill block to go with 26 excellent receptions in a display of his well-rounded game for the Bulldogs, who had three chances at match point in the fourth set only to be denied by the Golden Spikers.
‘We had problems on our offense in some sets. UST committed some crucial errors that allowed us to rally.’
NU trailed UST, 8-9, in the deciding frame before getting free points from its notoriously error-prone rival that shifted the momentum.
The Golden Spikers shot themselves in the foot with four straight miscues that allowed the Bulldogs to pull away, 12-9. UST answered with back-to-back points sealed by an Ybañez hit that cut the lead to one, 11-12.
Buddin quickly doused cold water on the Golden Spikers’ rally before service specialist Clarenz Belostrino scored his only point of the game with a sharp serve that slipped off the hands of libero Van Prudencio to put the Bulldogs at match point.
Nico Almendras finished off UST with a well-timed single block on Jay Rack de la Noche to end the nearly three-hour battle.
Almendras finished with 20 points that he collected off 18 attacks and two kill blocks on top of seven digs for the Bulldogs, who received 40 points off their opponents’ errors. Kenry Malinis got 11 markers while Obed Mukaba and Chiao Diao combined for 12 points.
Setter Owa Retamar tallied 25 excellent sets to help NU hammer down 61 attacks.
Gboy De Vega and Ybañez willed UST back in the fourth set after getting buried, 14-19.
De Vega saved a match point for a 24-24 deuce before Ybañez extended the frame two more times after NU moved at match points twice.
The Golden Spikers held three set points in the next plays before De Vega nailed a hit for a 30-29 lead. Buddin sent his attack long to force the decider.
Ybañez saw his 28 points — all from kills — and 12 digs go down the drain. De Vega got 19 markers while Rainier Flor produced 12 for UST, which advanced to the finals for the first time after 11 years.