In the end, it boiled down to power and poise and PetroGazz proved it had both, ending Creamline’s reign in the Premier Volleyball League with a 25-15, 28-30, 25-23, 25-19 victory to capture the Reinforced Conference crown before a roaring Sunday crowd at the Ynares Sports Center in Antipolo.
The Angels also played with so much desire with celebrated imports Wilma Salas and Janisa Johnson sustaining their awesome form all-tournament long and locals Jeanette Panaga, Cherry Nunag, Jonah Sabete, Jovielyn Prado, Alyssa Layug, Cienne Cruz and Djanel Cheng upstaging their more illustrious local counterparts with a kind of spunk rarely seen on first timers on a championship stage.
“It’s a mental game, Creamline is a tough team. But my players committed themselves in Game 2 that they wanted this championship,” said PetroGazz coach Arnold Laniog, who steered the Angels from a 0-1 series’ deficit to a sweep the next two.
Creamline, who swept this conference and the next (Open) last year, took Game One of their best-of-three playoff, 24-26, 25-16, 25-16, 25-22, but PetroGazz struck back barely 24 hours ago with a 15-25, 25-22, 25-22, 25-12 victory to force the sudden death in the season-opening conference of the league organized by Sports Vision and backed by Mikasa, Asics and KFC.
Salas has had her share of shots being blocked but the power-hitting Cuban ace kept pounding those blasts from all angles and finished with 30 points, doing most damage in the first three sets. Johnson then took over in the fourth, combining with Nunag, Sabete and Panaga as the Angels broke away from a tight encounter to win behind a strong finishing kick.
Despite down in sets, 1-2, the Cool Smashers were still at it at 15-16 in the fourth as Panaga served long. But after Nunag scored on a quick attack and came up with a kill block off Alyssa Valdez and Risa Sato’s 1-2 play went wide, the Angels soared to a four-point cushion, and the defending champions never recovered.
Salas’ 30th hit ended a long rally spiked by another Nunag block off Valdez that made it 20-15 and Sabete made it a six-point cushion on a lucky serve that hit the net but sailed over and caught the Cool Smashers off-guard.
Though Valdez came up with her own off-the-block hit to snap Creamline’s scoring spell, Nunag knocked in another quick hit and after Sato made an attack error, Johnson closed out it out with two hits, clinching it with a smashing spike in the corner as confetti fell from the rafters to mark the Angels’ rise to PVL throne.
“It took a lot of pressure but I’m grateful to my teammates, they were just great,” said Johnson.
The Angels dominated the opening frame in the deciding match but blew a huge lead in the second and crumbled in a pressure-packed extended duel. But they proved they were far from being finished, pulling through in the pivotal third on a 3-1 closeout from a 22-all count as Creamline’s Venezuelan import Ale Blanco made an attack error and the Angels foiled Valdez’ attack.
Michele Gumabao saved a set point on the next play but Salas hammered another hit to end the frame.
Riding the crest of their series-tying victory Saturday, the Angels easily took the opening frame and appeared headed for a cruise in the next until the Cool Smashers, behind Thai Kuttika Kaewpin and Valdez, sparked a late rally in a wild, frenetic battle that featured power hits from the imports of both sides but marred by a couple of miscues.
Earlier, Jovelyn Gonzaga marked her comeback to big-time volleyball in style, firing a clutch hit and an ace as PacificTown Army rallied from four down in the fifth set to snatch an 18-25, 25-16, 20-25, 25-15, 15-13 victory for the bronze
Olena Lymareva-Flink of Ukraine saved her best for last and rammed in 32 hits with 17 excellent receptions and fellow import Jenelle Jordan backed her up with 19 points and Royse Tubino chipped in 12 markers as they powered the Lady Troopers back from 6-10 down in the decider.