PVL: Cool Smashers, High Flyers seal title clash

Angel Antipuesto of Pocari foils one of Creamline’s Alyssa Valdez’s vaunted attacks in sudden death of their semis duel.
Angel Antipuesto of Pocari foils one of Creamline’s Alyssa Valdez’s vaunted attacks in sudden death of their semis duel.

Games tomorrow
1:45 p.m. – Pocari-Air Force vs BanKo-Perlas (battle for 3rd)
3:45 p.m. – Creamline vs PayMaya (for crown)

In the end, Creamline and PayMaya lived up to their billing, carving out victories in varying fashions to seal a showdown for the Premier Volleyball League Season 2 Reinforced Conference crown at the Filoil Flying V Center in San Juan yesterday.

Bracing for a skirmish, the top seeded Cool Smashers instead took a virtual cruise to the finals as they pounced on Myla Pablo’s absence to fashion out a 25-15, 25-18, 25-16 victory over the Pocari-Air Force Lady Warriors in their sudden death for the first championship berth.

Down 0-2 down, the High Flyers rode on Tess Rountree’s power, Grethcel Soltones’ spunk and the rest of the team’s never-say-die spirit, hacking out a 22-25, 14-25, 25-14, 25-23, 15-12 reverse in their semis side of the rubber match to arrange a best-of-three clash with the Cool Smashers for the crown in the season-opening conference of the league organized by Sports Vision.

Rountree slugged it out with BanKo-Perlas counterpart Kia Bright in a highly-charged duel in the fifth – from the wings and the backrow – and came out the winner, her last attack from the back putting the team on match point at 14-11.

Bright countered with her own stinging kill to make it a two-point game but Soltones delivered the clincher with a vicious attack that hit the hands of two BanKo defenders and which Bright failed to save from dropping to the floor.

Game One of the best-of-three finals is set at 3:45 p.m. tomorrow with Pocari and BanKo-Perlas disputing third place honors at 1:45 p.m.

Given little chance to recover after yielding the first two sets, the High Flyers struck back with a big win in the third then rallied from 21-23 down in the fourth by racking up four straight points to force the decider and provide the thrill and excitement lacking in the Creamline-Pocari match.

Earlier, Alyssa Valdez unleashed a 15-hit game, including six straight in a key third set breakaway, while Thai reinforcement Kuttika Kaewpin also fired 15 markers as the top-seeded Cool Smashers completed their fightback from 0-1 down to win their best-of-three semis playoff at the Filoil Flying V Center in San Juan.

The victory thus set Creamline up for a first-ever crack at the championship after two third place finishes in last year’s inaugurals of the league organized by Sports Vision and backed by Mikasa and Aspics.
It was a sorry setback for the last year’s champions, who came into the match brimming with confidence despite dropping Game Two but whose fortunes took a swift turn after Pablo hurt her back during the pre-game warm-ups, forcing the former league MVP to miss the all-important match.

Pablo, who normed 24 points in the first two games in the semis, was in pain as the team therapist worked on her back minutes before the match.

“Pag-receive ko sa warmup na-twist ko yung likod ko. Yung same part na na-injure dati,” rued Pablo, also a vital cog in Pocari’s floor defense. “Yung bola kasi lumihis, pagtagilid ko biglang parang may nabanat. Masakit talaga.”

Without the former National U star, the Cool Smashers went to town and finished with 45 attack points, 20 more than the Lady Warriors. Creamline also scored 11 aces as against Pocari’s five.

But with or without Pablo, the Cool Smashers said they came to Game Three armed to the teetj.

“Instead of dampening our spirits, the Game One loss fueled us to each the finals. We’re thankful for everything that happened to the team,” said Valdez.

“But things happen that we don’t expect. Ate Myla is one of the main factors why Pocari is a strong team. Defensively or offensively, she’s there to help,” added the former Ateneo stalwart of Pocari’s fallen skipper.

Valdez was at her best in the third when she strung up six straight hits, including a couple of drop shots, to rally the Cool Smashers from a 6-8 deficit to a 13-10 lead with Risa Sato accounting for the other point on an ace.

Michelle Gumabao and Jema Galanza then joined in the fray while Kaewpin finishing off the Lady Warriors with an off-the-block hit.

Sato ended up with 10 points while Gumabao had eight markers and import Laura Schaudt added five hits.

Arielle Lova unloaded 11 hits and Maddie Palmer added nine points but the duo failed to neutralize Creamline’s firepower, finishing with 48 digs against the Cool Smashers’ 68.

Meanwhile, Cignal, drawing 22 points from five-time UAAP MVP Marck Espejo, foiled PLDT, 25-23, 25-19, 33-31, to nail the first finals berth in the men’s division of the league.