By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
SUCCESSFULLY dethroned the defending Southeast Asian Games champion in the semifinals, the Philippine men’s volleyball team tries to complete its scintillating run in this year’s edition of the biennial regional sporting meet by winning the gold medal in the finals today at the PhilSports Arena in Pasig City.
To face Indonesia in the scheduled championship match at 6 p.m., the Philippines is out to build on its huge five-set upset of erstwhile champion Thailand on Sunday and hand the country its first-ever gold in the event.
The Philippine men’s volleyball team dethroned Thailand with a gusty come-from-behind 17-25, 25-20, 23-25, 27-25, 17-15 victory, ending in the process the Thais’ reign as champion.
Bryan Bagunas sparked the team’s comeback from a 1-2 set deficit, delivering the big hits, including a big block and a championship-clinching attack that frustrated the Thais.
“This is too much, I can’t explain the feeling right now. We’re elated because we won and we’re assured of a silver. But we need to work harder for the title,” said coach Dante Alinsunurin after their win which was witnessed by some 6,000 fans live at the venue.
With Marck Espejo checked by the Thai defense, Mr. Bagunas, a product of National University, rose to the occasion, playing his heart out to the delight of the crowd, coming up with a SEA Games-best 27 points built on 23 attacks, two aces and two blocks.
Mr. Espejo, meanwhile, poured in 20 points on top of 12 excellent receptions.
Thailand was seemingly on its way to the finals with a 14-13 lead in the deciding set but committed a service error.
Substitute Amorntep Konhan gave the lead back to the defending champions but the Filipinos did not buckle down and earned the victory in two hours and 18 minutes.
Standing in the way of the Philippines for the gold is Group B mate Indonesia, which has been undefeated so far in the tournament and is coming off a straight-sets win over Myanmar in the semifinals.
In the SEA Games, the Philippine men’s volleyball team has earned six medals to date — one silver and five bronze.