Players win big games and coaches lose them. But Oliver Almadro’s brilliance came to the fore all night and the Petro Gazz Angels moved in the threshold of a huge Premier Volleyball League championship when they scuttled the vaunted Creamline Cool Smashers, 25-22, 24-26, 25-23, 26-24, in an epic opener of the All Filipino Finals before a roaring Sunday crowd at the SM Mall of Asia Arena.
“Yung gameplan,” Almadro told Grethcel Soltones in a frantic huddle after the Cool Smashers tied the count at 22 in the first set which Petro Gazz practically controlled.
He was referring to Creamline’s rotation and the former three-time NCAA MVP from San Sebastian took the cue at resumption and fired a vicious kill on Zone 1 to key the Angels’ decisive 3-hit finishing kick capped by Jonas Sabete’s off-the-block kill against Pangs Panaga.
Creamline did bounce back and snatched the next in a gripping endgame battle of nerves and character but Petro Gazz countered in the pivotal third set in a finish marked by challenges from both sides. The Angels then dominated the early going of the fourth and weathered the Cool Smashers’ series of comebacks to pound out the dramatic, highly-emotional victory that practically silenced majority of the 11,532 who packed the Pasay arena.
And Almadro saved his best for last, interrupting a frenetic, nerve-wracking exchange late in the fourth to challenge a net violation by the Cool Smashers, which was ruled successful upon review as Jia de Guzman’s jersey touched the net, barely – clinching the set and the match for the Angels, who moved at 25-24 on an MJ Phillips’ quick hit off a Djanel Cheng’s brilliant reverse set.
“Alam namin kung gaano kalakas un firepower ng Creamline. Nag-stick lang kami sa gameplan namin at nag-focus sa laro,” said Jonah Sabete, who fought off cramps late in the game to finish with 18 points on top of her 15 excellent receptions.
“Lalaban pa din kami kahit me cramps o wala. Didikdikin pa din namin,” added the Bulacan State U product who took the game’s top honors.
But the rest of the Angels also dished out their best to surprise the Cool Smashers, who swept them in the season's opener last Feb. 4, with Aiza Pontillas finishing with 15 points, Soltones and MJ Phillips matching 14-point outputs and Remy Palma and ace playmaker Cheng adding eight and five points, respectively.
While Creamline flourished with its power behind Tots Carlos, Jema Galanza and Michele Gumabao and top middle Ced Domingo, Petro Gazz banked on its smart plays with Cheng scoring on clever 1-2 plays, Pontillas baffling the Cool Smashers with her drop balls, and Sabete and Phillips providing timely hits from the wing and the middle, respectively.
Galanza and Gumabao each fired 18 points while Carlos ended up with 17 markers and Domingo finished with 14 for the Cool Smashers, who also drew a combined 10-point game from Panaga and de Guzman.
Cheng also finished with 20 excellent sets against De Guzman’s 21.
But it was Almadro, whose goal-oriented coaching style separates him from his peers, who made things happen for the Angels. He quickly rushed to the other side for the mandatory post-game handshake with his counterpart as soon as his last challenge was upheld.
“We’re not thinking about the ‘one win away’ thing. We just have to do our job, we just have to prepare. We also have to manage ourselves not to be overwhelmed (by this victory). We have to be consistent,” said Almadro, whose previous record against Creamline was 1-of-11.
But his second win was inarguably sweeter as it put the Angels closer to a dream crown in the centerpiece event of each PVL season. The Angels have won two PVL titles, both in the Reinforced, including last December against Cignal and under now PLDT mentor Rald Ricafort.
“But I’m happy with what my players did. They were composed, they showed character at endgame and they really helped and trusted each other,” added Almadro.
But closing out the Cool Smashers in tomorrow’s Game Two of their best-of-three series will entail a lot of hard work.
“Tapos na ung isang game pero di pa tapos ang series, which is the most difficult thing to do,” said Almadro, who also came up with key substitutions in between sets, putting in Relea Saet and Marian Buitre in the mix. “Of course, we thank the Lord for the strength, wisdom and power that He has given us. And we hope that our supporters will keep on praying for us to have the energy and wisdom as we prepare for the next game.”