Fourth-set benching ignites Judy Caballejo’s final frame heroics for Air Force

Up until the penultimate set of the 13th Shakey’s V-League Open Conference finals opener, Air Force’s Judy Caballejo was way off the mark in terms of her usual output.

Before heading into Game 1 at the PhilSports Arena, Caballejo has had a stellar performance as she helped power the Jet Spikers to new heights despite losing key pieces and fellow former UST standouts Rhea Dimaculangan and Maika Ortiz.

On Wednesday, however, Pocari Sweat’s blockers read the outside hitter’s plans like an open book as she was either roofed or dug up on multiple occasions.

“Off ako. Hindi ko alam bakit ganun ‘yung laro ko,” she told FOX Sports. “Sunod-sunod kasi ako na-block. Bantay-sarado ako. Kahit anong anggulo ng palo ko, down the line o crosscourt, blocked ako. Nawala ang game ko.”

Having struggled for more than 3 sets with her team trailing by a mile in the fourth set, Caballejo was subbed out by head coach Jasper Jimenez as the mentor tried a new combination to bring them back to life.

But instead of feeling defeated, Caballejo took the minutes at the bench to observe and reflect, hoping against hope they could force the match to a decider.

“Buti na lang nilabas ako ni coach. Kung nandun lang ako sa loob hindi ako makakatulong kasi nawala ako eh. Buti na lang na-refresh ako sa labas. Nag-isip ako kung paano ako makakabawi,” she shared.

Luckily for her, team captain and setter Wendy Semana, along with May Ann Pantino, led the charge to turn the tides on the Lady Warriors.

On seeing the match from a different perspective, the former UAAP champ says: “Nakita ko nung fourth set, down kami ng madaming points. Nakita ko ‘yung habol nila. Nakita ko ‘yung puso nila.”

“Kaya sabi ko sa sarili ko, pag binalik ako, kailangan makisabay ako kasi hindi naman pwede na binigyan na nga ako ng chance, sasayangin ko pa. Ang panget pag ganun,” she added.

With a leap of faith, Jimenez inserted Caballejo back in the all-important fifth frame where the spiker delivered crucial points—finishing with 8 points—and impressive floor defense with a total of 15 digs.

This, combined with Pantino’s 17-point explosion, Joy Cases’s 14 markers, Jocemer Tapic’s 11 points, and Semana’s massive 65 excellent sets, spelled the difference which allowed Air Force to get one step closer to its first-ever V-League title.

Heaving a sigh of relief, she shares: “Akala ko tapos na nung sobrang down kami at puro na kami errors.”

“Siguro naman nakabawi ako sa dulo kasi medyo umangat naman ang laro ko. Nakapagpalusot ako ng at least dalawang palo.”

All this in mind, Caballejo and the rest of the Jet Spikers will have two days to prepare a game plan on how to shut down any possibility of a Pocari Sweat comeback.

To this, she says: “Isang panalo na lang champion na. Same lang ulit ang mindset. Practice kami kasi lalo na ako, kailangan ko mag step up kasi alam kong babawi ang Pocari.”

“Laban lang.” —By Mac Dionisio