Defending five-time champion National University leaned on the heroics of Thirdy Bacalso to clinch Tie 1 of the best-of-three Finals over Ateneo, 3-2, Friday afternoon at the Centro Atletico Badminton Center.
The former FEU Tamaraw had to fend off the late surge from Ateneo captain Fides Bagasbas in the third singles match to win in three games, 21-14, 20-22, 21-16.
NU drew first blood after Keeyan Gabuelo stopped Arthur Salvado's impressive run with a 21-16, 21-14 triumph before rookies James Villarante and Julius Villabrille swept Geno Cariño and Bagasbas to snare back the lead at 2-1, 21-12, 21-11.
Keoni Asuncion went two-of-two after dealing newbie Solomon Padiz Jr. the latter's first loss of the season, 21-19, 23-25, 21-14. The former Rookie of the Year and Salvado then outlasted Gabuelo and Padiz to force the decider, 21-18, 21-19.
"Alam ko may pressure sa mga players ko," Bulldogs head coach Jaime Llanes admitted. "Pero happy ako na nag-deliver yung third singles ko kahit na dikit yung scores."
Llanes wanted his players to be extra motivated to get the sixth-straight title tomorrow. "Kaunting motivation pa sa players ko kasi we all know karamihan dyan rookies. Hindi sila sanay sa pressure."
De La Salle bagged the bronze medal playoff after Andrew Pineda bucked fatigue and swept the last two matches to give the Green Shuttlers a 3-2 win over the UP Fighting Maroons.
The senior Green Shuttler and Eljee Pineda dealt graduating UP standout Vinci Manuel and Jason Vanzuela a 21-12, 21-17 defeat in the second doubles match. He then ran roughshod of Jacob Tercias at 21-17, 21-6 to claim the bronze.
Bernardo leveled the tie for La Salle, edging out Kyle Legaspi at 18-21, 21-19, 21-16 in the second singles match.
NU goes for the clincher tomorrow at 8 a.m. at the PNP Sports Center Badminton Courts.