KingWhale-Taiwan set up a showdown with Creamline for the Premier Volleyball League Invitational Conference crown, squeezing out a 25-15, 17-25, 25-22, 24-26, 15-5 decision over the first finalists to the letdown of the big crowd that packed the Filoil EcoOil Arena in San Juan on Friday, Aug.12.
The Taiwanese turned a shaky start in the fifth into a winning attack, overcoming a 0-2 deficit with a string of hits from Chang Chih Hsuan while cashing in on the Cool Smashers’ string of miscues to fashion out the two-hour, five-minute victory.
It was the visiting squad’s third straight win that came on the heels of its straight-set triumph over Army and another five-set escape over PLDT, thus formalizing its crack at the championship while dealing the crowd favorites their first loss in four matches at the close of the latter’s semis stint.
More importantly, it slammed the door shut on PLDT (2-2) and Cignal (1-2), both of which, including the fans, had hoped for a Creamline win that would’ve kept the local squads in the finals hunt.
KWT’s win likewise rendered today’s (Saturday) last semis duel pitting the Taiwanese against the HD Spikers non-bearing with the finals set 5:30 p.m. Sunday back at the SM Mall of Asia Arena.
PLDT and Cignal dispute third place at 2:30 p.m.
“If we do not play our best, Creamline will win,” said Chen Li-Jun, who took over from Chang and Bea de Carvalho in the stretch to anchor their breakaway run and clinch the game’s top honors with 17 points.
Opting not to push his luck, Creamline coach Sherwin Meneses went for new combinations majority of the match but still suffered a setback when top hitter Alyssa Valdez went down with an ankle sprain after accidentally stepping on De Carvalho’s foot late in the third.
She hobbled as she made her way to the dugout and didn’t see action the rest of the way but said she was okay and is expected to suit up in the finals where the Cool Smashers will go for back-to-back after topping the Open Conference last April.
Michelle Gumabao stepped up for Creamline and spearheaded the team’s fightback from 1-2 set down in the fourth. But after taking the first two points in the fifth, the Cool Smashers lost control of their game and scrambled trying to neutralize the Taiwanese fightback – to no avail as Chang came through with back-to-back kills and Gumabao’s attack sailed long to give KWT the lead it never relinquished.
Chang’s attack error in the ensuing play made it 3-3 but KWT strung up four straight points aided by a couple of Creamline miscues and a Gumabao net violation gave the Taiwanese a huge 8-3 cushion.
It was practically over from there despite Meneses’ ploy to field in Tots Carlos and Jia de Guzman, whom he played in the first four sets but pulled out in the fifth, back with Carlos even hitting a long attack that made it 10-4 for KWT.
After a 14- and 19-point effort against Army and PLDT, respectively, De Carvalho produced a 24-point game and drew solid backup from Chang, who finished with 14 points despite missing the opening set.
Carlos still topscored for Creamline with 15 points, the bulk of which she delivered in the first three sets, while Gumabao produced a conference-best 11 points while coming in and going out after each hit in the first four sets.
Valdez still scored 11 points in a three-set appearance while Vargas contributed nine points in the absence of Jema Galanza, who was out with an index finger injury.
After trading lopsided wins in the first two sets, the Taiwanese came out unscathed in a back-and-forth pivotal third frame marred by the sidelining of Valdez then got the better of the Cool Smashers in a duel of long rallies at the onset of the fourth, only to crack in the face of the latter’s gutsy stand in the clutch.
KWT actually battled back from 19-22 down with three straight points and saved one set point behind Chang’s through-the-block hit. But the Taiwanese yielded the next point on four touches and Rose Vargas, who finished with nine points, completed Pau Soriano’s key dig to sent the match into the decider.