Twice put on pins and needles in the fourth set, PLDT Home Fibr kept its poise and kept its offense going, essaying a clutch 17-25, 25-11, 25-20, 25-18 victory over Army to close in on a semifinal berth in the Premier Volleyball League Invitational Conference at the SM Mall of Asia Arena Saturday, July 23.
Dell Palomata underscored the High Speed Hitters’ aggressive play with a towering 12-hit performance on quick attacks that often found their targets while Jules Samonte, Fiola Ceballos and Chin Chin Basas sustained their form that helped anchor their five-set escape over the Petro Gazz Angels last Tuesday.
With a 3-1 slate, PLDT moved to solo second behind first semifinalist Cignal HD (4-0), moving a win away from advancing to the semis for the first time since sweeping Army to win the 2015 Reinforced Conference crown of the defunct Shakey’s V-League.
PLDT takes on Choco Mucho on Tuesday and then closes out its elims task against Cignal on July 30.
The loss dropped Army to 2-2, ruing the absence of two of its starters in Honey Royse Tubino, who had to attend to her Army Refresher course, and Michelle Morente, who was indisposed.
The duo combined for 12 points in Army’s four-set win over Choco Mucho, also last Tuesday.
“It’s all about composure,” said PLDT coach George Pascua, who checked his wards’ showing in the opening set where they kind of rushed things up, leading to a series of miscues and the loss.
“But they moved better in the second set and played with consistency,” added Pascua, who drew double digit outputs from four players to underline the team’s strong offensive sock.
After bouncing back with two imposing set wins, the High Speed Hitters looked poised for a cruise as they raced to a 12-6 lead in the fourth. But the Troopers threatened at 12-13 and 14-15 on a Jem Gutierrez hit and a Joanne Bunag block, respectively.
The High Speed Hitters, however, were far from being rattled as Basas and Ceballos came through with back-to-back hits that keyed a decisive 10-4 closing run by PLDT, which wrapped up the 1:47-hour match on a Gutierrez attack error before a roaring packed crowd bracing for the Creamline-Choco Mucho duel.
Samonte led PLDT with 17 points after an 18-point showing against Petro Gazz, while Ceballos and Basas backed her up with 13 and 11 hits and Mika Reyes added nine markers highlighted by three blocks and two aces.
But it was the 6-2 Palomata who stood out, feeding on Rhea Dimaculangan’s setups for the quick hits while combining with Reyes in foiling Army’s attacks, most of which the Troopers had failed to cover.
“My mindset was to play aggressive – in hitting and blocking,” said Palomata.
Jovelyn Gonzaga came out firing in the early going but slowed down in the last three frames and finished with 11 points while Bunag had 10 points and Nene Bautista finished with six. All three were members of the team that got swept by PLDT, then led by Alyssa Valdez, Gretchel Soltones and Aiza Pontillas, in the finals seven years ago.
Despite Tubino and Morente’s absence, the Troopers still turned what had been a tight first set into a runaway win on a fiery windup, closing out with a 10-2 blast behind Bunag, Gonzaga and Mary Anne Esguerra as they broke free from a 15-all count in a decisive run aided by PLDT’s eight miscues, four more than their rivals.
But the High Speed hitters came out of the second frame an organized lot, coming up with good passing that set up Palomata for a series of quick attacks that the Troopers virtually had no answer for. She also alternated with fellow middle hitter/blocker Reyes in anchoring their superb blocking that all but stymied the Troopers’ own attacking game.
Palomata scored almost at will, pouring in seven points to spike PLDT’s breakaway from 3-6 to 17-4 then capping PLDT’s dominating showing with another block.
PLDT, which yielded five attack points, 10-15, in the opener, ripped its veteran rival with a 14-3 result on attacks in the next set with the High Speed Hitters also settling down on their all-around game by matching their rivals’ three errors in the set.
It was more of the same in the next two frames.