By KRISTEL SATUMBAGA
Creamline showed nerves of steel in the crunch and beat Petro Gazz in a tense fourth set showdown on the way to a 25-16, 23-25, 25-12, 32-30 win in the opener of their Premier Volleyball League Open Conference Finals at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
The Cool Smashers once again banked on their 1-2 punch in Alyssa Valdez and Tots Carlos to extend their unbeaten run to nine matches and pull themselves within a win of reclaiming their title.
They can clinch the title with another win on Friday.
Both Valdez and Carlos finished with similar 26 points as they combined for 47 of the team’s 76 kills.
Interestingly, Valdez and Carlos – the deadliest combination ever formed in recent years – alternately shattered Petro Gazz’s defense with their thunderous spikes while some of their teammates came through with timely placement shots that caught the Angels off guard.
Petro Gazz had six set-point advantages but failed to pull it through until Carlos delivered another massive spike that whisked past the Angels’ defense for a 31-30 edge.
And then came the lucky shot that sealed the deal for the Cool Smashers and reduced the Angels to tears in the opener of their best-of-three title series.
A spike from Seth Rodriguez that went long ended what perhaps the most explosive set showdown in league history.
While Valdez and Carlos took charge of Creamline’s attacking game, it was veteran setter Jia De Guzman who made the difference by converting smart plays to finish with 39 excellent sets.
She also had 15 digs on top of four points.
Despite the emphatic win, De Guzman said it’s not yet over.
“We’re grateful for the win but we know we can’t just win the title in one game,” the former Ateneo standout said.
“We’ll still work hard in our training and try to adjust to things that we could have done better. Since eto na yung finals, ibubuhos na talaga namin lahat.”
Focus will be on how to minimize the team’s unforced errors as they gave up 27 points compared to Petro Gazz’s only 12.
Jema Galanza also shone with 17 points while Jeanette Panaga chipped in 13 points for the Cool Smashers, who also finished with 10 blocks and seven aces.
Grethcel Soltones fired 12 points while Myla Pablo had seven for Petro Gazz until both suffered from cramps that became crucial to the Angels.