Riri Meneses froze as she spread her wings in a gesture of triumph and the Cignal HD Spikers whooped it up on their side of the court to celebrate a key 23-25, 25-23, 28-26, 25-18 victory over the fancied Creamline Cool Smashers in the Premier Volleyball League Reinforced Conference semifinals Sunday before a big crowd at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
With a 2-0 card in the semifinal round and a key victory over the grand slam-seeking Cool Smashers in the race for the first finals slot, the back-to-back third placers in this year’s Open Conference and Invitationals took a step closer to a dream championship appearance.
“Creamline is a great team, with so many fans. But for us to be able to do it, it’s great in our confidence. It showed in our character, our ability to keep getting better,” said Tai Bierria.
The Cignal import came off the bench late in the opening frame and fired 21 points, matching her record output in leading the team past Chery Tiggo last Thursday. Lightly regarded among the reinforcements for her youth and demeanor, the 25-year-old American continued to prove her worth as Cignal campaign progresses, embracing her role as bench player ready to step up at any given time.
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She led her team in the last three sets and was in sync with the Cignal locals, both in offense and defense, while sneaking in a number of smart plays with her drop shots and power tips.
“First time namin manalo sa Creamline sa semifinals, so malaking opportunity sa amin na maging better pa kami sa susunod na game namin,” said Cignal coach Shaq delos Santos, who also drew 11 points from Meneses, who won the battle of middles with Creamline’s Pangs Panaga and Ced Domingo.
Angeli Araneta likewise came through with an 10-point game as stalwarts Ces Molina, Roselyn Doria and Rachel Anne Daquis settled for eight, seven and five points, respectively, in the two-hour, eight-minute encounter.
Cignal goes all out for a semis sweep against Petro Gazz on Tuesday to avoid going through a tiebreaker while Creamline tries to re-calibrate against Chery Tiggo.
“Lagi kaming nagpapasalamat kay Lord kasi lagi niya kaming gina-guide, especially ngayong conference na healthy yung team kaya rin siguro ung nagging transition din ng team from the elims to the semis mas better,” said delos Santos, whose wards also pounced on the Cool Smashers’ glaring 33 errors while yielding just 16 of their own.
“Sobrang happy kami kasi kilala natin yung Creamline na talagang mahirap silang talunin kung hindi mo sila paghahandaan at hindi ka magpapakundisyon,” he added.
Alyssa Valdez blasted in 17 attacks for a 20-point output while import Yeliz Basa added 17 markers and Jema Galanza and Pangs Panaga finished with 13 and 10 points, respectively.
Creamline unloaded 61 attack points against Cignal’s 49 but the HD Spikers had 12 blocks, three more than their rivals.
It was actually a toss-up in the pivotal third as Cignal battled back from a wobbly start to force a tie at 12. They slugged it out through 11 more deadlocks marked by hard hits and blocking but the HD Spikers displayed grace under pressure as Bierria scored on a power tip to force another tie at 26.
Meneses then shoved Cignal to set point on another strong tip before Bierria closed it out with an off-speed hit.
The HD Spikers rode on that big escape to dominate the fourth with Bierria, Araneta and Doria before Meneses banged in a quick attack that made it 24-16. Creamline tried to hang on and scored back-to-back points but Cayuna set up Meneses again for a quick hit before standing still and raising her arms in victory.
In the second game, Petro Gazz bounced back from a straight-set loss to Creamline the first time out, beating an import-less Chery Tiggo side via the same fashion, 25-15, 25-17, 25-13, to stay in the finals hunt with a 1-1 slate.
Myla Pablo fired 15 points, including 11 on attacks and four blocks, to power the Angels to the clutch win that tied them with the Cool Smashers at 1-1 heading to the final semis playdate on Tuesday.
The Angels and the HD Spikers dispute the first finals slot on Tuesday with the Cool Smashers (1-1) likewise seeking to remain in the thick of things against the ousted Crossovers, who fell to 0-2.
With 6 points on its back-to-back wins, Cignal is assured of at least a tie for the last finals berth with Petro Gazz and Creamline, both with 3 points, needing to win in three or four sets to force a three-way tie.