Its championship poise and character put to a stern test, Creamline overcame all its mental hurdles and pounded out a key 18-25, 25-16, 25-18, 23-25, 15-6 victory over Petro Gazz to force a winner-take-all match for the hotly-disputed Premier Volleyball League All Filipino Conference crown before a raucous Tuesday crowd at the SM Mall of Asia Arena.
The Cool Smashers came out of a flawed finish in the fourth set with a near-impeccable showing in the decider, racking up a bewildering eight-point binge anchored on Michele Gumabao and Tots Carlos to break a 2-2 count, turning what was expected to be a riveting, down-to-the-wire battle of nerves into a runaway finish to the delight of majority of the 9,917 fans.
And Ced Domingo proved clutch, scoring Creamline’s last three points, including a rare run-and-gun hit, a key block of Grethcel Soltones and a two-handed dump after a Petro Gazz mis-receive that ended the mind-draining duel of power and wits that produced thrill and tension from the start.
“We had so many lapses in Game One and there were a lot of things to be fixed. But all our hard work have paid off,” said Creamline’s playmaker Jia de Guzman, who posted 30 excellent hits and emerged the best player in a match that produced a lot of heroines for the defending champions.
There was Gumabao, whose own three-point blast in the fifth padded Creamline’s 6-2 lead to seven points and whose superb blocking likewise stymied a number of Petro Gazz attacks. Carlos and Jema Galanza were in their old fiery selves, soaring and firing away stinging kills, and the rest backed them up with a gritty floor defense and coverage that kept the Smashers in control in the second and third sets and in the decider.
“Hindi na skills ang labanan pero nag-respond naman ang team. Maganda ung pinakita sa 5th set, ung puso, champion team yan kaya hindi sila bibigay,” said Creamline head coach Sherwin Meneses.
But they actually looked ahead for a big meltdown as Rose Vargas and Gumabao ruined their big late fourth set rally with service errors, the first shoving Petro Gazz to set point at 24-22 and the last putting to naught Domingo’s crucial block off MJ Phillips that pulled the Cool Smashers within, 23-24.
Gumabao, however, redeemed herself at crunchtime and finished with a rare top-scoring 21-point output while Carlos flourished with 20 points and Galanza wound up with 17 markers. Domingo ended up with 14 points.
Like in their 25-22, 24-26, 25-23, 26-24 Game One win, Petro Gazz unleashed its own firepower as Remy Palma fired 16 points, Aiza Pontillas added 15 points and Jonah Sabete and Phillips each finished with 10 points and Soltones added eight markers. But the Angels failed to stop the Cool Smashers’ fifth-set assault and struggled trying to launch their counter-attack.
The Cool Smashers thus stalled the Angels’ crack at a third PVL glory after nailing two Reinforced Conference titles. But more importantly, the two-hour and 16-minute victory put Creamline back on track for back-to-back championships in the league’s centerpiece tournament, the former Open Conference, while lining up the Cool Smashers for a sixth PVL championship since joining the league in 2017.
Earlier, F2 Logistics unclasped itself from a heated duel of power, blocks, quick attacks, digs and all that matters for the bronze with PLDT, coming through with a telling run in the fourth set and essaying a 23-25, 25-23, 25-23, 25-15 victory for a sweep of their best-of-three series.
Aby Maraño, doing what she does best, swung to her strong side and unleashed her signature running attack off a reverse set by Iris Tolenado, the ball hitting Mich Morente’s arms and away from the reach of any PLDT player and the former La Salle standout finished off the High Speed Hitters then posed like an archer to the delight of the huge Tuesday crowd.
Kim Dy came away with 19 points, Ara Galang stepped up to fire 14 hits, and Maraño, who helped anchor their 20-25, 25-22, 25-18, 25-17 victory in Game One to clinch the best player of game trophy, finished with 11 points.