On its third straight stab at pro glory, Creamline didn’t crack and won for the second straight time, cutting erstwhile unbeaten KingWhale-Taipei down to size with a 25-21, 25-19, 25-8 victory for the Premier Volleyball League Invitational Conference crown before a roaring Sunday crowd at the SM Mall of Asia Arena.
That they needed just three sets to dispatch the once-formidable Taiwanese spoke well of the caliber of the team that also swept Petro Gazz in the recent Open Conference finals following a breakdown to Chery Tiggo when the league marked its inaugural pro staging in bubble setup in Ilocos Norte last year.
But while it might have looked like quicker than expected, the Cool Smashers had to go through some anxious moments, particularly in the second frame when the Taiwanese fought back from an opening set setback and took the last of their two six-point leads at 17-11 on a Kyle Negrito service miscue.
But Chang Chih-Hsuan’s own flawed serve in the ensuing play sparked a Creamline run that the Cool Smashers would sustain till the end of the 80-minute match as they countered with a decisive 14-2 binge that pushed the Open Conference champions to the threshold of another gold medal feat.
They kept the momentum of that big assault, racing to an 11-3 lead in the third and cruising to the trouble-free win to the delight of majority of 7,148 fans, whose thundering roars kept the Cool Smashers’ adrenaline rush pumping while befuddling the Taiwanese poise so evident in their pair of five-set escapes that steered them to the finals.
And it took Creamline’s designated closer to finish off the visiting squad as Alyssa Valdez, bucking an ankle sprain, blasted in a kill that hit the arm of a KWT defender and into the stands as confetti fell from the rafters to mark another Cool Smashers’ masterful victory following their sweep of the Angels at the Ynares Center in Antipolo last April.
The win also primed Creamline for a shot at the Asian Volleyball Confederation Championship for Women, which unfolds Aug. 21 at the Philsports Arena in Pasig.
The Taiwanese, who spiked their semis run with a five-set win over the Cool Smashers, failed to recover from their late second set foldup, groping to launch their attacks in the third and struggling to neutralize the Cool Smashers’ onslaught as they settled for another runner-up finish, their fourth counting the three in the Top Volleyball League back home.
Earlier, Cignal HD overcame all odds – absence of two key players, a two-set deficit and a huge hole in the third – as it hacked out an improbable 17-25, 20-25, 27-25, 25-22, 15-5 victory over a luckless PLDT to clinch third place honors, matching its finish in the Open Conference.
Tots Carlos, who watched from the sidelines as Michelle Gumabao took over to preside the team’s fiery comeback in the second frame, went on to fire 14 points and bag the MVP honors for the second straight conference. The former UP stalwart also copped the best opposite spiker trophy.
Other awardees in the mid-season tournament of the league organized by Sports Vision were Valdez and Ces Molina of Cignal (best outside spikers) and PLDT’s Mika Reyes and Dell Palomata (best middle blockers), while KWT’s Qiu Shi-Qing took the best libero plum and ace setter Liao Yi-Jen snared the best setter plum.
Jema Galanza, who teamed up with Carlos to anchor their first set win, finished with 13 points while Valdez wound up with nine points.
Celine Domingo made an impact with 11 points and was named the Finals MVP for her solid performance on the net that saw her churn out four block points.
But it was Gumabao who provided the spark and the momentum in the second set as the former La Salle ace finished with four points on a 3-of-5 stint while giving Creamline not just another offensive option but also an added force on net defense.
The Cool Smashers’ superb defense also held Bea de Carvalho to 12 points, her lowest output in five games, while Chang ended up with eight hits, Gantogtokw Khandsuren added six points, and Chen Chieh and Germina Jacobs struggled for a combined seven-point output.
It was a dominant win for Creamline, who produced 43 attack points, 13 more than the Taiwanese, had eight blocks against KWT’s three and scored seven aces against their rivals’ one.
Jia de Guzman also came through with 19 excellent sets, three more than Liao while Valdez capped another brilliant game with 13 excellent digs with de Guzman adding nine of her own saves.