Creamline has toiled long and hard to reach a record sixth straight finals appearance in the V-League club era—and three sets away from nailing a fourth championship—and a third Open crown—coach Sherwin Meneses is virtually unburdened by the pressure that comes with accomplishing such a hard mission.
“We’re thankful that we got Game One. Winning it is a big deal because the pressure is now on the other side,” said Meneses after the Cool Smashers survived the Petro Gazz Angels’ gritty stand to hack out a 25-16, 23-25, 25-12, 32-30 victory in the opener of the Premier Volleyball League Open Conference title series at the packed MOA Arena late Wednesday.
Back in the same spot as they were last year, Meneses guaranteed a different ending this time.
“What happened last year was a lesson to us,” he said, referring to the league’s pro inaugurals in Iloilo Norte where they edged the Chery Tiggo Crossovers in five games in the opener of the best-of-three finals but dropped the next in four and lost the sudden death in an epic five-set thriller.
One thing going for the Cool Smashers as they set out for the clincher—and a rare sweep of the championship—is that Petro Gazz top hitter Grethcel Soltones remains a doubtful starter after the former San Sebastian ace sustained injury while trying to help anchor the Angels’ fightback in the fourth set.
“It’s a different game on Friday (today). We’ll have a new rotation, we are one player down but somebody must step up,” said Petro Gazz coach Jerry Yee, who, however, cited the Angels’ maturity that enabled them to measure up with the Cool Smashers in the series.
“The team is mature enough to fight. If they give us a break, we’ll cash in on it,” added Yee, whose Angels blew four set points but saved a couple of match points before yielding in a protracted battle of wits and nerves.
But how will they rise to the challenge will be known at 6 tonight as the Angels try to stop the Cool Smashers in Game Two of their best-of-three playoffs at the Ynares Center in Antipolo.
The presentation of awards for the conference’s top performers will be held before the 3 p.m. match for third place between Choco Mucho and Cignal HD with the Flying Titans also out to wrap up their side of the best-of-three series after repulsing the HD Spikers, 25-17, 25-21, 21-25, 25-22, also last Wednesday.
To force a deciding game, the Angels will have a lot of adjusting to do, primarily on their offense and coverage after the Cool Smashers hammered 76 attack points from 190 attempts in Game One with Alyssa Valdez and Tots Carlos standing at the forefront of Creamline’s assault with 24 and 23 kills, respectively.
The team’s 1-2 scoring threat finished with 26 points apiece with Jema Galanza adding 17 points and Pangs Panaga chipping in 13 points.
Setter Jia de Guzman is expected to raise her game a notch higher to keep Creamline’s dreaded offense going while counterpart Chie Saet expects to put up more of the same that she dished out the first time out to keep the Petro Gazz hitters in sync and in attack mode all game.
Petro Gazz actually produced more blocks, 12-10, but converted just 41 kills in 170 tries with MJ Phillips topscoring with 13 points, Soltones pumping 11 before moving out in pain and Jonah Sabete adding nine kills for 11 points.
Myla Pablo struggled for just seven points, Remy Palma settled for six points, Aiza Pontillas groped for five hits and Nicole Tiamzon, subbing for the injured Soltones, finished with two points.
But they are expected to step up in a match they couldn’t afford to lose, thus ensuring a more explosive performance for the Angels, who foiled the Cool Smashers’ back-to-back title bid in the 2019 Reinforced Conference.
Creamline, however, got back at Petro Gazz in the succeeding Open conference, which the Cool Smashers retained, only to yield it to the Choco Mucho side in a bubble setup last year.
But with the Crossovers’ bubble pricked in the absence of Jaja Santiago, the Cool Smashers are now a win away from becoming the second team to win a championship in the Sports Vision-organized league’s pro era.
Creamline, meanwhile, also sparkled in their backrow stand in Game One, coming through with 89 excellent digs, 58 more than Petro Gazz, with Kyle Atienza producing 25 and Galanza adding 18 on top helping the team in attacks.
But stats won’t matter for a Petro Gazz side in a do-or-die hole while expect Creamline to pile up the numbers that would embellish their impending date with history.