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VNL: Japan stays unblemished, escapes China in Pasay leg Day 1 thriller

Japan escaped China's upset bid. Cesca Rampas
By John Rhey Piamonte

PASAY—In front of a packed stand at the SM Mall of Asia Arena, league-leading Japan banked on a late-game surge to squeak past China in a hard-fought 24-26, 25-23, 21-25, 25-23, 15-12 Tuesday nigjt victory and keep their streak alive in the 2023 Volleyball Nations League. 

Kento Miyaura spearheaded Japan's rally in the deciding set as he fired a crucial service ace that broke the cushion and sealed the game with a superb cross-court hit to rip China, 15-12. 

The 24-year-old Miyaura poured in 15 points off the bench for Japan while team captain Yuki Ishikawa also contributed with team-high 19 points, 16 coming from attacks, two on blocks, and one off a service ace. 

"We upped our game and established our service. We fixed our focus in that fourth set," Ishikawa on the adjustments they made after being down 1-2.

Trailing by six match points behind, opposite hitter Jingyin Zhang went berserk and led China's 8-0 run to take the set away from the hands of Japan, 24-26 at the end of the first salvo.

China carried on with the momentum in the early goings of the second but Japan quickly flipped the switch as Ran Takahashi provided the much-needed spark, dialing in five crucial points including the off-the-block hit that put an end to the set at 25-23.

"We have our last three matches before the end of the eliminations. These are all important matches for us. We have to push ourselves even more," Takahashi said.

The trio of Zhang, middle blocker Yongzhen Li and setter Hebin Wang continued to do damage in the third, propelling China to a 2-1 set advantage. 

China made its presence felt at the net as the team registered a monumental 17 block points compared to the five only recorded blocks of Japan. 

Zhang finished with a game-high 21 points, 17 attacks, two blocks, and two aces, respectively. Li added 16 markers for China. 

Finding themselves on the brink of defeat, Japan's outside hitters Ishikawa and Miyaura combined for 12 attack points in the fourth set to force a decider. 

World no. 7 Japan established pace on the court during the fifth set and stayed in control of the scoreboard from the beginning to the end. 

Japan strengthened its hold of the top spot, improving to a 9-0 unbeaten slate while China fell to 2-7. 

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