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Choco Mucho escapes past Petro Gazz in thriller

Choco Mucho recovered from a harrowing first set meltdown and a narrow defeat in the fourth, hacking out a 24-26, 25-22, 25-18, 24-26, 15-13 decision over Petro Gazz to create a three-way tie for the top spot in the Premier Volleyball League All-Filipino Conference prelims at the Philsports Arena in Pasig Tuesday night.

The Flying Titans took four of the first five points in the decider and maintained control throughout. Sisi Rondina’s powerful hits, coupled with pivotal plays from Maddie Madayag and Kat Tolentino, including the latter’s decisive kill that brought them to match point, 14-9, solidified their position.

But Petro Gazz, seemingly on the verge of duplicating its unheard-of 7-0 comeback in the opening frame, mounted a spirited rally by stringing together four consecutive points to threaten within one.

Choco Mucho, however, secured the all-important point – and the marathon two-hour, 36-minute victory – as Marian Buitre, who had struggled with two service miscues late in the fourth and early in the fifth, served into the net, ending the first match that went the distance in the league’s season-opening conference organized by Sports Vision.

Rondina’s fourth point in the fifth frame – and her 24th in the game – provided the Flying Titans with a comfortable 13-7 lead. But the Angels, behind Jonah Sabete’s game-long brilliance, steered the team back into the match, scoring two of Petro Gazz's next six points, the last an off-the-block hit that pulled the team within, 13-14.

Choco Mucho coach Dante Alinsunurin strategically called for a timeout to refine their defense and attack play but Buitre's service error dashed the Angels’ hopes and sent the Flying Titans to a tie with the PLDT High Speed Hitters and the Chery Tiggo Crossovers at 2-0 (win-loss).

“Hanggang ngayon nag-iisip pa rin kami kung bakit nangyari yun. Marami kaming chances na pwedeng matapos pero thankful pa rin kami kahit papaano dahil nakuha pa rin namin ang panalo sa bandang huli,” said Alinsunurin.

Tolentino finished with 17 points, Isa Molde added 12 markers and Madayag and Chery Nunag backed them up with 11 points apiece. Mars Alba followed up her 18-excellent set showing again Nxled with a 25-set performance to bag the game’s top honors.

Sabete’s impressive 29-point exploits went down the drain with the loss.

Brooke Van Sickle came away with 18 points, Aiza Pontillas scored 15 markers and Remy Palma and Kecelyn Galdones combined for 15 points for Petro Gazz, which dropped to 1-1.

Rondina re-asserted herself following a shaky stint in the stretch of the opening frame that saw her struggle to convert on four attack attempts, enabling the Angels to pull off a gem of steal on a 7-0 closing run that turned a 19-24 deficit into a two-point win.

The Flying Titans, undeterred by the setback, displayed exceptional teamwork and determination as they played through their full potential, clinching the next two sets.

But the Angels proved far from being finished, pulling through with another cliffhanger in the fourth to force the decider.

Choco Mucho, however, wrested a 4-1 lead on a Nunag quick attack, a Molde block off Pontillas, a Rondina backrow hit and a Sabete attack error. The Flying Titans held sway at 10-5 on another Rondina kill and a Madayag ace, and looked headed to a romp after taking a 13-7 lead.

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