Humbled by a late second set stumble, Creamline flashed its superior firepower and class in the next two frames, drubbing Army Black Mamba, 25-21, 23-25, 25-19, 25-17, and setting its title drive in motion in the Premier Volleyball League Invitational Conference at the Ynares Center in Antipolo, Thursday.
Four Cool Smashers churned out double-digit outputs to underscore their awesome offensive might while their middle blockers and the rest kept their defense holding at the net and on the floor to fashion out the one-hour, 56-minute victory.
It was a rousing win for a team seeking a second straight pro championship after romping off with the Open Conference trophy last April but which is bracing for a tougher test given the strength of the rest of the semis cast, made more daunting by the presence of two foreign guest squads.
But Kobe Shinwa of Japan and KingWhale of Thailand won't be seeing action until Monday when they clash in an explosive twinbill capped by the Creamline-Cignal rematch at the SM Mall of Asian Arena.
Tots Carlos, sporting a pink hair complementing the franchise's colors, spewed fire from all angles, finishing with 21 attack points for a 24-hit output, while Alyssa Valdez, Jema Galanza and Pangs Panaga hammered out 18, 12 and 10 points, respectively, for the Cool Smashers.
So overpowering were the crowd favorites that they produced 20 attack points more than the Lady Troopers, 63-43, while coming away with eight blocks, including three from Panaga, against their rivals' six with Jeanette Villareal accounting for all but one.
"We were able to recover from the second set since Army won't give up that easily," said Creamline coach Sherwin Meneses, so confident of his wards' ability to bounce back from such setbacks, in Filipino.
"That's all we're looking for since the game is already there. And everybody contributed," he added.
Army also finished with four players posting double-digit scores but Jovelyn Gonzaga could only end up with 13 points while Honey Royse Tubino made 11 hits and Joanne Bunag and Villareal chipped in 10 points apiece.
But it was only in the last two sets that Creamline had re-asserted its might with Carlos soaring for a slew of attacks on both sides, Valdez unleashing her trademark power hits and Galanza backing them up with her own variety of kills.
That came after the Lady Troopers stunned them with a shock come-from-behind win in the second set after the Cool Smashers foiled the former with a big windup in a tight first set duel and looked headed for another strong finish in the next after scoring five of the next seven points from a 17-all count.
But Mary Ann Esguerra put Army back in the match on a quick play, Bunag scored on an off-the-block hit off Carlos and Gonzaga tied it again at 22 on an off-speed hit.
A mis-receive by Creamline led to a Bunag putaway and a rare Army lead but after Carlos blasted in her 15th point against two defenders to set up a tense finish, the Lady Troopers clinched the next two points - and the set - aided by their rivals' costly blunder at endgame.
Gonzaga capped a key combo play to put Army back on top at 24-23 then the Lady Troopers leveled the match in easy fashion as Galanza and Kyla Atienza let the ball drop in hesitation to return a Carlos' save near the ad billboards.
But the Cool Smashers turned hot in the next two, seizing early control at 16-10 that featured a series of fiery exchanges in the third and storming to a 10-3 bulge in the fourth.
The Lady Troopers did try to mount a comeback in both stretches but just couldn't put it all together to neutralize their rivals' vaunted attacking game while failing to make the most of their own offensive charge.
They dropped to 0-2 following a three-set setback to the PLDT High Speed Hitters last Tuesday and would need to sweep their last three games in the single round robin semis phase to stay in the title race.