Creamline put its vaunted hitting prowess on full display all night but needed a hitting error from Petro Gazz in a gripping fourth set duel to pull off a 25-16, 23-25, 25-12, 32-30 squeaker that moved the Cool Smashers a step closer to ruling the Premier Volleyball League Open Conference in smashing style, Wednesday evening at the SM Mall of Asia Arena.
The jump-serving, power-hitting Tots Carlos came through with an off-speed hit to shatter a 30-all count in the fourth then the Cool Smashers snatched the set and the match as Seth Rodriguez fired a shot off a chance ball that sailed over the outstretched arms of two Creamline defenders and out of the baseline.
That triggered a frenzied celebration from the Cool Smashers' side and majority of the more than 14,000 roaring fans at the MOA Arena while the Angels' nearly froze in their side of the court in disbelief after missing sending the opener of the best-of-three finals into a decider following a gutsy, never-say-die play in the longest-set played in the conference.
The Cool Smashers hammered 76 attack points against the Angels' 41 to underscore their unparalleled firepower while their floor defense produced 89 digs, 58 more than their rivals. But the two-time Open champions still needed to scrape past in the fourth after taking a cruise in the third as the Angels refused to give up even after top player Grethcel Soltones cramped out of the game with the score tied at 20.
But Nicole Tiamzon stepped up big-time, combining with MJ Phillips and Jonah Sabete to drag their fancied rivals into a marathon, nerve-wracking duel of nerves. The Angels blew four set points while saving a couple of match points before Alyssa Valdez and Carlos combined in the stretch and finished with 26 points apiece.
Jema Galanza added 17 points and Jeanette Panaga fired 13 points for the Cool Smashers, who after a dominant first set win, crumbled in the second frame enabling the Angels to draw level and the crowd to go livelier and crazier.
Fancied to reign in the league's inaugural pro staging in Ilocos Norte last year, Creamline got ambushed by Chery Tiggo after taking the opener of the best-of-three finals. But the Cool Smashers used that setback as a war cry, stamping their class with an intact roster to sweep its group prelims. They dropped the BaliPure Water Defenders in the quarters and dominated the Choco Mucho Flying Titans in two in the semis.
They shoot for a seventh straight victory and a sweep of the second Open pro crown tomorrow at the Ynares Center.
Phillips finished with 13 points while Soltones and Sabete combined for 23 points for the Angels, who beat the Cool Smashers in their first title face-off in the 2019 Reinforced Conference before the latter beat the former in the Open Conference of the same season.
Earlier, Choco Mucho lived through a tense duel of nerves and poise in the fourth set as it pounded out a 25-17, 25-21, 21-25, 25-22 victory over Cignal HD to zero in on third place honors.
Deanna Wong put up a stellar performance orchestrating the Flying Titans' offense and played a key role in defense, finishing with 30 excellent sets, 10 more counterpart Gel Cayuna; while Kat Tolentino dished out another fiery outing and banged in 23 points.
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.
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, relegating the frustrated HD Spikers to the duel of third.