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Petro Gazz, Cignal take spotlight as Game One unwraps

They braced for a crack at a team that has figured in the Premier Volleyball League finals the last seven conferences, winning five of them. But Petro Gazz and Cignal ended up facing each other for the coveted crown in the Reinforced Conference that has been nothing but astounding.

But the Angels and the HD Spikers expect to provide something novel for the volley fans to relish with their locals eager to take center stage and their imports with contrasting styles and skills raring to anchor their respective team’s drive for the championship.

Game One of the best-of-three series is set at 5:30 p.m. at the Smart Araneta Coliseum with neither squad holding a distinct advantage over the other in a clash of power, blocking and gambits and in a title duel tipped to herald a new league rivalry.

“Masaya na may bagong rivalry, lumalabas yung laro namin pareho sa mga games namin,” said Petro Gazz coach Ralf Ricafort. “Sana ma-maximize ulit namin at maipakita kung ano yung ginawa namin (Tuesday). Mahaba pa ‘to – three games pa.”

He also vowed his wards will make the most of their chances aided by a rival team.

“We’ll make sure that we make the most of this finals dahil binigay ng ganitong way,” said Ricafort, referring to the Chery Tiggo Crossovers’ spoiling of the Creamline Cool Smashers’ finals drive and quashing the latter's ambitious grand slam bid, also Tuesday.

Petro Gazz does appear to have the slight edge in strength and upfront if one were to pick on the result of their Tuesday’s match where the Angels, led by Lindsey Vander Weide’s fiery 30-attack output, overwhelmed the HD Spikers in spikes, 60-44, and lorded it over the net, 13-4.

But Cignal has almost always found a way to extricate itself even from the deepest of holes. Facing the specter of missing the finals altogether despite sweeping their first two semis matches, the HD Spikers saved three match points against the Angels and averted a straight-set loss.

They did drop the match in four but not after securing a higher point ratio in case of a three-way tie for first with Petro Gazz and Creamline.

No triple-tie ever ensued as Chery Tiggo, out of the finals race with back-to-back losses, dragged Creamline out of the title chase too, forcing the fancied Cool Smashers into a five-set battle and ending the Open Conference and Invitational champions’ dream of a record season sweep in the league organized by Sports Vision.

That ensures a new champion will be crowned next week, actually not necessarily fresh as the Angels reigned in this conference the last time in 2019 when they upended the Cool Smashers in sudden death.

That PVL breakthrough should be another plus for Petro Gazz. But after finishing third in this year’s first two conferences, there is no way to go but up for the title-hungry Cignal.

“We just have to keep working, keep getting better,” said Tai Bierria, whose ever-improving game underscored the HD Spikers’ steady rise to the top in a conference marked by twist and turns.

The New Orleans native has embraced her role coming off the bench, almost always subbing late in the first set then picking up her game in the next before taking over at the finish.

Her four-point binge to spike Cignal’s rise from the brink in set 3, stave off a shutout loss to Petro Gazz and secure the HD Spikers’ finals stint was the latest in Bierria’s growing list of endgame exploits and fans could only wonder what more would she bring in the title playoff.

Ces Molina and Rachel Anne Daquis hope to provide the poise and firepower along with Roselyn Doria, Chay Troncoso and Angeli Araneta while Riri Meneses gear up for fierce duel in the middle with MJ Phillips and ace setter and top server Gel Cayuna primes up against counterpart Djanel Cheng in a clash of two of the league’s top playmakers.

But Vander Weide also boasts of an explosive local support eager and ready to keep the crown, including Myla Pablo, Grethcel Soltones, Aiza Pontillas, Remy Palma, Nicole Tiamzon, Jonah Sabete, Marianne Buitre and Phillips.

Creamline and Chery Tiggo, meanwhile, start their own duel for third at 2:30 p.m.

Games are aired on One Sports, One Sports+, Cignal Play and Smart Gigaplay.

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