Ousted Chery Tiggo exited in a blaze of glory, crushing Creamline’s grand slam bid by dragging the latter into a five-set battle which it lost, 16-25, 25-20, 25-14, 11-25, 9-15, but which sent Petro Gazz to the finals against Cignal HD in a stunning ending to the Premier Volleyball League Reinforced Conference semifinals at the Philsports Arena in Pasig on Tuesday.
But forcing the top-seeded Cool Smashers out of the finals race didn’t come as a surprise for the Crossovers, who rallied from an opening set blowout with a gutsy win in the next then used their solid blocking to stop the Open Conference and Invitational champions from staying on course of their bid for a rare sweep of the three PVL jewels.
That was all Chery Tiggo needed to spoil Creamline’s record bid. The Cool Smashers came into the match looking to win it either in three or four sets to arrange a title showdown with the HD Spikers, who earlier clinched the first finals slot despite dropping a 14-25, 21-25, 27-25, 19-25 decision to the Angels.
Cignal, Petro Gazz and Creamline wound up with identical 2-1 cards but the Cool Smashers ended up with lower set ratio than the HD Spikers and the Angels.
Chery Tiggo wound up with a 0-3 slate.
Cignal and Petro Gazz kick off their gold medal duel on Thursday at 5:30 p.m. while Creamline, a five-time champion, and Chery Tiggo clash for the bronze starting at 2:30 p.m. at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Despite yielding the second set, the Cool Smashers still had a chance to win it in four but the Crossovers’ net defense proved too tough for them to hurdle as the latter broke the game wide open on a stirring 12-2 run for an 18-11 bulge in the third.
Mylene Paat then took over in offense with Cza Carandang, Shaya Adorador and Roselle Baliton and setter Alina Bicar stepping up with their quick hits as the Crossovers went unassailably ahead at 23-13, frustrating the Cool Smashers, who never missed a PVL finals since 2017, and their fans no end.
Adorador then scored on a push off Jia de Guzman to all but quash Creamline’s dream with Alyssa Valdez ironically sealing her team’s fate with an attack that sailed long.
Earlier, American Tai Bierria did what she does best in Cignal’s last two games, taking over in the clutch as she staved off her team’s impending straight-set loss with a heroic stand in the third, forcing a four-set result that sent the HD Spikers to the finals.
Cignal did lose the match but advanced to the finals with a higher set ratio over the 2019 champions, largely behind their stirring four-set reversal over the grand slam-seeking Creamline Cool Smashers last Sunday and a straight-set romp over the Chery Tiggo Crossovers last Thursday.
Petro Gazz import Lindsey Vander Weide pumped in five of her top-scoring 30 points in the clutch, the last an off-the-block hit that finished off the HD Spikers and pumped life to the Angels’ title-retention drive.
The Angels actually had a golden chance to punch their way to the finals first as they poised for a sweep against the HD Spikers after taking the first two sets and a 24-21 lead in the third.
But Bierria made things happen against for the HD Spikers the way she did against the Crossovers and the Cool Smashers.
She came away with 15 points after coming off the bench late in the first set. She struggled in the second frame but came alive late in the third, personally saving three match points and then lifting the team to a 26-25 lead on a dump.
She didn’t stop there as she came up with a big dig off a Petro Gazz power hit, leading to Meneses’s quick attack that literally saved Cignal from getting bumped off the finals race after the HD Spikers swept their first two semis matches over the top ranked teams.
Gel Cayuna likewise kept the HD Spikers together as the team teetered on the brink, setting up Bierria for back-to-back off-the-block hits that tied it at 24 and another power baseline hit that the Angels contested – without success.
MJ Phillips came through with an easy hit off an Angeli Araneta miscue to extend the set but Bierria’s dump and Meneses’ quick attack capped the HD Spikers’ improbable comeback that only underscored the team’s composure and big fighting heart.
Meanwhile, Vander Weide took charge in the fourth, making all her points off attacks that likewise underlined the Angels’ domination on offense as they finished with 60 against the HD Spikers’ 44 attack points.
The Angels, who dropped their opening semis match to the Cool Smashers in three but swept the Crossovers next, also banked on their solid blocking to control the first two sets, ending up with 13 blocks against their rivals’ measly four-block effort.
Phillips nearly doubled the HD Spikers blocks with seven, the last foiling Riri Meneses in the middle although the Angels gave up five aces against their solitary point from the service line.
Phillips finished with 13 points, Aiza Pontillas flashed vintage form in the early going and wound up with 10 markers, Remy Palma and setter Djanel Cheng matched seven-point outputs while Myla Pablo added six points for Petro Gazz, which finished No. 3 after the single round robin elims in the season-ending conference of the league organized by Sports Vision.
Cheng also kept the team together with her brilliant playmaking chores while using her smarts to score on 1-2 plays and key pushes that had oftentimes kept the HD Spikers at bay.