GCA 2 survives thrilling finale


Grace Christian Academy 2’s Steven Balakrishna goes up for a spike during the deciding third set of their title game against Mt. Carmel School 1 in the middle school division of the 2017-2018 Commonwealth Coalition of Private Schools Association Volleyball League last Friday at the GCA court in Navy Hill. (Roselyn B. Monroyo)

Grace Christian Academy 2 and Mt. Carmel School 1 showed how a championship game should be played as they kept the spectators on the edge of their seats before the Eagles escaped with a three-set win in the middle school finale of the 2017-2018 Commonwealth Coalition of Private Schools Association Volleyball League last Friday at the GCA court in Navy Hill.

It was a come-from-behind win for GCA 2, as the Knights prevailed in the opening set, 25-22, threatening to end the Eagles unbeaten season. The Eagles regrouped after the stunning loss and the swept the last two, 25-10, 17-15, to clinch the division crown and finish this year’s competition undefeated. GCA 2 won all its 13 matches in the regular season and then eliminated MCS 2 and Agape Christian School to set up a finals showdown against MC1, which made it to the title game after ousting Seventh-Day Adventist School and GCA 1.

The underdogs Knights went on to catch the GCA 2 off guard in the opening set with a 3-point win. Merrick Toves, Richard Steele, and Jeremiah Diaz worked well together, holding their own against GCA 2’s Sam Ryu and Steven Balakrishna in the battle on the net. The rest of Knights’ players on the court—Noreen Vidal, Fiona Bucalig, and Mariana Tenorio—also played steady, setting up their spikers and chasing the ball at the back row.

With Mt. Carmel just a set away from completing an upset over the favored GCA 2, Eagles coach Caesar Libut tried to calm his players down, telling them not to panic and instead settle down and play their game.

“They have to concentrate on their game and not get carried away with the crowd and their emotions. I reminded them to do what we have been doing in practices and in the games that we won—that is to keep their focus and believe they can do it,” Libut said.

After the pep talk with their coach, the Eagles came out strong and jumped to a 9-2 lead with Balakrishna peppering Mt. Carmel with spikes. Then just when spectators thought GCA 2 would pull away, the Knights clawed their way back into the game, moving within 2, 7-9. Toves scored 3 points in the comeback off a spike, block, and tip, while the rest of MCS 1’s points came off GCA 2’s wide returns.

That was the closest that the Knights could get, as it was all an Eagles show after that with Balakrishna finishing what he started, as he gave GCA 2 the last 2 points in the second set with his first one off a block on Toves’ dump and the last from a spike with the ball heading to the back row and dropping to an unguarded spot.

With Balakrishna towing GCA 2 to the win, the finals went to a third set.

Mt. Carmel went on to have a good start in the deciding set, as it built a 3-0 lead. Diaz scored MCS 2’s first point as his return hit the sideline, while Toves made it two in a row with his kill, and Steele followed it up with an ace. With GCA 2 failing to counter, Libut was force to call an early timeout to wake his team up.

The lull worked for the Eagles, as Balakrishna was at it again with those booming spikes and a couple of blocks with the one against the much smaller Diaz giving GCA 2 its first taste of the lead in the set, 8-7.

After that 15th point, teamsswitched sides and it was a nip and tuck game after that, giving supporters from both camps anxious moments.

At this juncture, neither team led by more than 2 points and there were several lead changes. GCA 2 moved 2 points away from wrapping up the finals, 13-11, when Balakrishna fooled MCS 1’s defense as he seemed to be going for a spike, but decided to tip the ball that fell on the front row with no Knights player available to receive it.

However, Mt. Carmel made up for the defensive lapse when Toves went for a spike and then followed Balakrishna cue, as he also tipped the ball instead of another spike and that caught Kian Pajarillaga napping at the front row.

With the match tied for the nth time, 13-all, Libut called his last time out and when the game resumed, GCA 2 went to its bread and butter play—Balakrishna spiking. The lanky player hit one and Toves attempted for a block, but was unsuccessful as the ball hit the latter’s hands and then off to the sideline, boosting GCA 2’s title hopes

However, the Knights refused to give up with Toves countering Balakrishna’s spike with a tip to force another standoff, 14-all.

The battle on the net continued and this time, it was Sam Ryu who let go of a spike and again Toves failed to block it, as GCA came knocking on the door to the Promised Land again, 15-14. Ryu tried to close out the match with another spike, but his shot went wide off to the back row, allowing the Knights to knot the count anew, 15-all.

That was the last deadlock, as the Eagles got the two needed points to end Mt. Carmel’s gallant stand. GCA 2 took the first point off Toves’ wide serve, while Ryu finally wrapped up the match as his spike went to the back row and Toves was not squared off yet for a return.

Roselyn Monroyo | Reporter
Roselyn Monroyo is the sports reporter of Saipan Tribune. She has been covering sports competitions for more than two decades. She is a basketball fan and learned to write baseball and football stories when she came to Saipan in 2005.

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