By Jerome Lagunzad
Arellano pierced Perpetual Help’s cloak of invincibility with its steadier poise down the stretch yesterday, pulling off a 12-25, 25-21, 19-25, 26-24, 15-9 stunner to close in on the 93rd NCAA men’s volleyball title at The Arena in San Juan City.
Christian dela Paz stood at the forefront of their fluid attack with a game-high 24 points, capped by the game-clinching wallop off a great set-up by Edmark Meneses, as the Chiefs gave the favored Altas a perfect dose of their own medicine in the decisive frame to complete their audacious fightback from a two-sets-to-one deficit.
More importantly, Arellano put itself on the cusp of claiming its breakthrough title since joining the league in 2009 as the Chiefs will have a pair of chances to wrap it all up starting on Monday.
Arellano coach Sherwin Meneses, however, is not counting out Perpetual Help yet, aware that the Altas, the outright finalists who swept the nine-game elimination round, are capable of bouncing back.
“Wala munang celebration kasi ‘yung Perpetual kaya bumawi,” he said. “So kailangan mag-prepare kami. Hindi pa kasi ‘yan tapos pero maghahanda kami ng maganda para sa Game 2.”
Joebert Almodiel, the league’s reigning MVP and Rookie of the Year awardee, tallied 18 points while three other teammates tallied at least 12 points each that all went down the drain with the Altas’ so-so showing that left veteran mentor Sammy Acaylar disappointed.
With the score tied at 24-apiece in the fourth set, Dela Paz saved the Chiefs from the jaws of defeat with a go-ahead kill before Demy Lapuz followed it up with the set-clinching hit to drag the Altas to a decisive set.
Then Arellano used that as a rallying point in the fifth frame as it scored five straight points and took a commanding 9-3 advantage off a Christian Segovia attack. Perpetual Help pulled to within four at 8-12 but fell into a maze of errors, leading to its stunning downfall.
In juniors division, Letran continued its stellar rise as the fourth-ranked Squires completed a stunning upset of top-ranked Emilio Aguinaldo College Brigadiers behind a 25-23, 28-30, 25-23, 25-23 victory in their do-or-die tiff earlier.
John Paulo Lorenzo tallied a team-high 16 points while Christian Dela Cruz added 14 points as Letran survived three straight knockout matches and arranged a best-of-three finals with ‘four-peat’-seeking Junior Altas starting on Monday.