Spikers’ Turf: Nico Almendras, NU-Sta. Elena stun Cignal in comeback win

NU-Sta. Elena Nationals in Spikers’ Turf. –SPIKERS TURF PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines — Nico Almendras erupted with 30 points as National University-Sta. Elena fought back from two sets down to upset defending champion Cignal, 20-25, 22-25, 25-23, 25-21, 15-10, in the 2022 Spikers’ Turf Open Conference semifinals on Thursday at Paco Arena.

Almendras rose to the occasion to lead the Nationals’ comeback, firing 26 kills and four blocks to go with 11 excellent receptions to pull off a stunner after a two-hour and 17-minute match.

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The 23-year-old outside spiker gave NU-Sta. Elena a comfortable 13-6 lead in the fifth set. But Louie Ramirez scored three of Cignal’s four straight points to cut down the deficit to three, 13-10.

Kennry Malinis came to the rescue for the Nationals with a clutch attack to stop the bleeding and reach match point, 14-10, before he nailed the game-winning block on Ramirez to earn their first win in the semifinals round.

Despite giving up 35 errors that caused their lethargic start, NU coach Dante Alinsunurin was glad how his wards showed their desire to win and bounce back from their three-set loss to Cignal last Saturday — their first defeat of the conference.

“We got lucky in the end game. In the first two sets, I really pushed my players just to win a set, which could change the game,” said Alinsunurin in Filipino. “Good thing my players delivered. They showed what they can do in this kind of situation. I hope we can sustain our momentum this semis. We’re thankful for this win.”

NU-Sta. Elena shared the top spot with PGJC-Navy before they clash for a second victory on Saturday at 2:30 p.m.

The top two teams will clash in a best-of-three finals series starting on September 29.

Michaelo Buddin also stepped up with 23 points and 16 excellent receptions. Obed Mukaba had 10 points, providing four of the team’s 15 kill blocks. Malinis chipped in seven points and seven digs, while ace setter Joshua Retamar had 22 excellent sets on top of four markers.