Ilocos Norte – With another looming five-setter, Chery Tiggo put forth all its strength to beat down Creamline in the fourth, fashioning out a 25-18, 17-25, 25-16, 25-21 victory to force a sudden death for the Premier Volleyball League Open Conference crown here last night.
JaJa Santiago towered all over when it mattered most, pumping in clutch points behind her vaunted quick attacks, including a joust that broke the 16-all count in the fourth, giving the Crossovers the needed momentum and cushion, 20-17, to hold off the Cool Smashers, who had hoped to send the match into another five-setter where they had been unbeaten in five occasions.
That included a 25-15, 25-21, 18-25, 19-25, 15-7 escape in the opener of the best-of-three finals Wednesday, putting the Cool Smashers closer to ruling the country’s first pro volley league after dominating this tournament in the then semi-pro PVL in 2019.
But Santiago, along with sister Dindin Manabat and the rest of the gritty Crossovers, would not have any of it as Manabat took over at endgame and fired three hits, the last a back row attack off a broken play that cooled down the Cool Smashers.
“God brought us here, we did the work and God did the rest,” said Santiago after steering the Crossovers to the victory that set up the winner-take-all match at 3 p.m. today.
The former National U standout, who toughened up in the Japanese V League, came away with 25 points, the 21st forcing a 16-all tie and the next, on a net battle, shoving Chery Tiggo to the lead that the Crossovers would never relinquish.
A Jema Galanza wide attack and another Santiago quick hit put Chery Tiggo three points clear of their fancied rivals and after Galanza countered with a sharp kill, Santiago again scored on her bread-and-butter play with Jasmine Nabor.
A Chery Tiggo setting miscue and a net violation that sandwiched Manabat’s power hit kept Creamline in the match but Risa Sato served long and after Michele Gumabao scored on a corner hit, Manabat delivered another point and Shaya Adorador escaped with an off-speed hit.
Alyssa Valdez soared and knocked in a hit off a combination play to keep Creamline within three but the Crossovers regrouped after scrambling with the first ball in the ensuing play and Manabat coming through with the clincher that the Cool Smashers had failed to save.
“We just have to stay focused. Kailangan naming magsama-sama para makuha ang korona,” added Santiago, who also stressed the need for the Crossovers to come into the rubber match mentally prepared.
In a clash of power and adjustments, the Crossovers came out better with schemes that clicked and surprised the Cool Smashers no end.
While Creamline coach Tai Bundit stuck with his core players majority of the way, Chery Tiggo mentor Aaron Velez shuffled his aces well with starter Mylene Paat and Joy Dacoron coming in fresh in the third set and providing the energy to the finish.
Behind Maika Ortiz’s brilliant plays, the Crossovers took command midway in the opening frame as the former UST standout scored on a variety of shots, including on quick plays and blocks plus a couple of soft attacks.
But the Cool Smashers, behind the fired-up troika of Valdez, Galanza and Tots Carlos combined in a blistering second set bounce-back, reasserting their might upfront that the Crossovers had no answer for, reducing the match to a three-set duel.