Stalled by Cignal HD's big surge in the third set, Choco Mucho lived through a tense duel of nerves and poise in the next, pounding out a 25-17, 25-21, 21-25, 25-22 victory to zero in on third place honors in the Premier Volleyball League Open Conference at the SM Mall of Asia Arena on Wednesday.
Deanna Wong put up a stellar performance orchestrating the Flying Titans' offense and played a key role in defense, coming up with 30 excellent sets, 10 more than her counterpart Gel Cayuna; while Kat Tolentino dished out another fiery outing and banged in 23 points, including three blocks
Rose Ponce and Wong, meanwhile, anchored the back row with 26 and 20 digs, respectively, as the Flying Titans finished with 110 against the HD Spikers' 80.
The two-hour, one-minute win thus moved the young Flying Titans a victory away from claiming third place after losing to the Petro Gazz Angels in the battle for bronze in the pro league inaugurals in Ilocos Norte last year.
They go for the clincher on Friday at the Ynares Center in Antipolo.
The setback was the third straight for Cignal, which extended its skid following an impressive run of six victories, including a sweep of the five-team group prelims, a quarterfinal win over BaliPure and a come-from-behind triumph over Petro Gazz in the opener of their best-of-three semis.
But the Angels swept the next two in back-to-back, energy-sapping matches to seal a title showdown with the powerhouse Creamline Cool Smashers, bundling the frustrated HD Spikers out of the title playoffs.
Bea de Leon backed Tolentino with 10 points, including four blocks, while Des Cheng added 10 points and Aduke Ogunsanya, Ponggay Gaston, Isa Molde, and Wong combined for 20 points.
Wong's fourth point, an off-the-block hit, also finished off the HD Spikers.
Roselyn Doria came away with 12 points for Cignal, which also drew 11 points from Ces Molina, and 10 points apiece from Klarissa Abriam and Rachel Anne Daquis.
In a match which ushered in the Creamline-Petro Gazz title showdown before a roaring, jampacked crowd, Choco Mucho stirred up play right from the opening serve, racing to a 7-2 lead then staying in control all throughout in the absence of Daquis.
They looked poised to matching that fiery start in the second, posting a 17-13 lead before the former FEU ace came in to fire an ace and spark the HD Spikers' surge to 20-18 on a 7-1 counterattack.
But the Flying Titans regrouped in the stretch with Tolentino unloading back-to-back power hits to force a tie before the former took five of the last six points, aided by Angeli Araneta's attack error that gave Choco Mucho a 2-0 set lead.
The HD Spikers, however, were far from being finished. Finding their rhythm, they wrested control midway in the third and kept their rivals at bay with timely hits from Abriam, Doria and Jerrili Malabanan aided by the Flying Titans' couple of miscues.
But they failed to sustain their charge, losing steam in an intense exchange of power hits, spectacular saves, rallies and miscues.
They forced a tie at 20 but three attack errors put Choco Mucho two points away from the victory and after Cignal pulled to within, 22-23, again, the Flying Titans delivered the last two points.