Its will and character tested, Creamline took Choco Mucho’s challenge to heart, battling back from a set down and pounding out a 23-25, 25-19, 25-18, 25-15 victory to clinch the first championship berth in the Premier Volleyball League Open Conference in Pasay yesterday.
The big crowd were back at the MOA Arena and so were the Cool Smashers in the finals as the 2018-19 champions came away with two decisive scoring runs in the last two sets, the first shattering a 15-all count with a six-point roll and the other breaking a 7-all game with a seven-point binge for a pair of breakaway romps.
Creamline, which failed to make it three-in-a-row in the league’s centerpiece event after losing to Chery Tiggo in Ilocos Norte last August, awaits the winner in the other semifinal duel pitting Cignal HD and Petro Gazz, which are still playing at presstime.
Game One of the Finals will start Wednesday, also at the MOA Arena.
A victory by Petro Gazz will set a knockout match for the other finals berth today (Monday).
Creamline also subdued Choco Mucho in four, 25-18, 17-25, 25-19, 25-11, in Game One at the Filoil Flying V Arena in San Juan last Friday.
While the Flying Titans surprised the Cool Smashers with their solid net defense in the opening set that saw them produce seven blocks against their rivals’ one, the latter went to their vaunted power game, raining Choco Mucho with 62 attacks points, 26 more than their sister team.
“We’re thankful that we were able to recover from our first set loss. We came up short but the team’s maturity and chemistry are there. We only have to play our game,” said Creamline coach Sherwin Meneses.
And play they did.
The high-flying, jump-serving Tots Carlos stood at the forefront of Creamline’s offense with 23 points, including 19 attacks, while Jema Galanza unloaded 16 attacks and finished with 18 points and skipper Alyssa Valdez backed them up with a solid 17-hit effort.
Pangs Panaga added 10 points, making her presence felt at the end of the fourth set where she pumped in back-to-back attacks that likewise exposed the Flying Titans’ inability to respond to the Cool Smashers’ quick plays.
“We really trained hard and studied Choco Mucho’s play,” said Galanza, named the best player of the game that actually produced a lot of heroes for the Cool Smashers, who drew inspiration from and lived through the roars of the crowd all game to mark their return to the Open finals for the fourth straight year.
It was a sorry setback for the young Flying Titans, who had appeared headed to extending the series with an impressive win in the opening set. But they slowed down in net defense in the next two, scoring just two in the second and had zero blocks in the third.
Kat Tolentino finished with 14 points while Des Cheng scored 13 points, the last two kept the team in the hunt at 14-20 and 15-22. But the Cool Smashers pulled away again on those Panaga’s hits and Valdez did what she does best, closing out their rivals with a power hit that pierced through Bea de Leon’s stretched-out arms.
De Leon made nine points in a three-set stint while Aduke Ogunsanya and Cherry Nunag added six points apiece for the Flying Titans, who scored 23 points off the Cool Smashers’ unforced errors but yielded 10 aces.
Stung by the Flying Titans’ strong start, the Cool Smashers drew level with an imposing win in the second set then broke away from a tight game midway in the third frame.
Fully regaining their confidence, not to mention the momentum, the crowd favorites squandered an early 6-1 lead in the fourth but like in the previous set, they broke a 7-all count with a decisive seven-point run on their way to completing a sweep of the Flying Titans.
Choco Mucho also had a fair share of the cheers and screams, particularly when the Flying Titans stymied the dreaded Creamline attacking game with solid blocking in the opening set and in the fourth when they rallied from 7-14 down to within 12-14 on a five-point roll capped by Isa Molde’s back-to-back hits.
But the heavy-handed Cool Smashers came out of the huddle an organized lot, firing away hits after hits behind Carlos, Valdez and Galanza on their way to posting another 21-14 cushion that proved to be too big a deficit for the Flying Titans to overcome.