While this isn’t the worst case scenario for the three-time defending champions, their path to a historic four-peat got just a little harder; the road to Season 81’s finals, a little bit longer.
Entering today’s match, a win would seal the second seed and twice-to-beat advantage for DLSU entering the playoffs while a loss means a virtual best-of-three series against the 10-4 UST Golden Tigress. Up two sets-to-one, La Salle uncharacteristically lacked the killer instinct and end-game poise to lose to last year’s losing finalist FEU Lady Tamaraws 22-25, 25-13, 25-15, 25-27, 8-15, Sunday at the Filoil Fying V Center.
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La Salle was actually at match point, 24-23, at the fourth set after a cross court hit from veteran May Luna. The Lady Tamaraws, the fourth seed in this year’s Final Four and playing with nothing to lose, responded with a hit from Heather Guino-o to tie the set. A La Salle error was quickly made up by a kill from rookie Jolina dela Cruz to once again level the set at 25-all.
Two errors, one from the service line by Aduke Ogunsanya and an attacking error from Lourdes Clemente, forced a fifth and deciding set that no one in the Green and White gallery expected nor wanted.
In the deciding frame, FEU was clearly the hungrier and better team. Aside from wanting to avenge their two-game sweep in last season’s finals series, the Morayta-based squad hasn’t won a game against the Lady Spikers since Game 1 of the Final Four in Season 78.
The closest that La Salle got to FEU was at 4-6 after a block from Clemente. From thereon, the Lady Spikers would only score two more times as the Lady Tamaraws leaned on the trio of Guino-o, rookie France Ronquillo, and Jeanette Villareal to finish off La Salle.
The first set was a see-saw affair that saw FEU take the first five points to take a 4-8 edge after the first technical timeout. La Salle answered back with a 12-2 rally as rookie Jolina dela Cruz sizzled from the service area while the offense of the Lady Tamaraws went silent. With the score tied at 19-all, it was the turn of DLSU to struggle as a 4-1 run gave FEU a 23-20 lead.
Smarting from FEU taking the opening frame, La Salle bucked down and went to work in the second and third frames, limiting the Lady Tamaraws to just 13 and 15 points by out-attacking (combined 26 vs. FEU’s 16), out-blocking (6-0), and out-serving (7-3) their opponents.
Dela Cruz once again set her UAAP career output with 22 points, built on 15 attacks, six aces, and a block. The Bulacan-native also added 18 excellent digs and seven excellent receptions.
Tin Tiamzon ably supported dela Cruz with 17 points and seven excellent receptions, while Luna came off the bench to produce 15. Noticeably missing was the presence and contribution of team captain Desiree Cheng who sat out half of the first set and the entire second and third sets. The graduating DLSU skipper finished with only two points.
The playoff for the twice-to-beat advantage in the Final Four against the UST Golden Tigresses is scheduled on May 1, 3:30PM, also at the Filoil Flying V Arena.
DLSU (2) – dela Cruz 22, Tiamzon 17, Luna 15, Ogunsanya 8, Clemente 7, Cheng 2, Cobb 2, Alba 0, Ipac 0, Saga (L)
FEU (3) – Guino-o 24, Malabanan 15, Carandang 8, Ronquillo 5, Agudo 3, Villareal 3, Cayuna 2, Negrito 1, Domingo 1, Hernandez 0, Duremdes (L) 1, Bautista (L)