Overshadowed by Tai Bierria’s late-set heroics in the third, Lindsey Vander Weide owned the fourth frame like no other, unloading a string of power blasts to steer Petro Gazz to a 25-14, 25-21, 25-27, 25-19 victory over erstwhile unbeaten Cignal at the close of the Premier Volleyball League semifinals at the Philsports Arena in Pasig yesterday.
But Bierria and the HD Spikers came out of the match with heads held high as they clinched the first finals berth despite the setback, finishing with a higher set ratio over the 2019 champions, largely behind their stirring four-set reversal over the grand slam-seeking Creamline Cool Smashers last Sunday and a straight-set romp over the Chery Tiggo Crossovers last Thursday.
Creamline is tipped to force a three-way tie at 2-1 with Cignal and Petro Gazz but a sweep or a four-set win over Chery Tiggo would net the Cool Smashers the other championship slot.
But a Chery Tiggo victory or a five-set result in the nightcap would send Petro Gazz to the best-of-three finals starting tomorrow (Thursday) at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
But the sure thing was Vander Weide was in her element, pumping in five of her top-scoring 30 points in the clutch, the last an off-the-block hit that finished off the HD Spikers and pumped life to their title-retention drive.
“Sayang, but we’ll take it (win). We will just wait for the result in case of a three-way tie,” said Petro Gazz coach Rald Ricafort.
The Angels actually had a golden chance to punch their way to the finals as they sat on a 24-21 cushion in the third after sweeping the first two.
But Bierria made things happen again for the HD Spikers the way she did in their last two games.
She came away with 15 points after coming off the bench late in the first set. Though she struggled in the second frame, the New Orleans ace came alive late in the third, personally saving three match points then lifting the team to a 26-25 lead on a dump.
She didn’t stop there as she came up with a big dig off a Petro Gazz power hit, leading to Riri Meneses’s quick attack that literally saved Cignal from getting bumped off the finals race after the HD Spikers swept their first two semis matches over the top ranked teams.
Gel Cayuna likewise kept the HD Spikers together as the team teetered on the brink, setting up Bierria for back-to-back off-the-block hits that tied it at 24 and another power baseline hit that the Angels contested—without success.
MJ Phillips came through with an easy hit off an Angeli Araneta miscue to extend the set but Bierria’s dump and Meneses’ quick attack capped the HD Spikers’ improbable comeback that only underscored the team’s composure and big fighting heart.
Meanwhile, Vander Weide took charge in the fourth, making all her points off attacks that likewise underlined the Angels’ domination on offense, finishing with 60 against the HD Spikers’ 44 attack points.
The Angels, who dropped their opening semis match to the Cool Smashers in three but swept the Crossovers next, also banked on their solid blocking to control the first two sets, ending up with 13 blocks against their rivals’ measly four-block effort.
Phillips nearly doubled the HD Spikers blocks with seven, the last foiling Meneses in the middle although the Angels gave up five aces against their solitary point from the service line.
Phillips finished with 13 points, Aiza Pontillas flashed vintage form in the early going and wound up with 10 markers, Remy Palma and setter Djanel Cheng matched seven-point outputs while Myla Pablo added six points for Petro Gazz, which finished No. 3 after the single round robin elims in the season-ending conference of the league organized by Sports Vision.
Cheng also kept the team together with her brilliant playmaking chores while using her smarts to score on 1-2 plays and key pushes that had oftentimes kept the HD Spikers at bay.