PLDT rose from a heartbreaker of a setback in the third set with a crushing win in the next then battled back from four points down in the decider to hammer out a 17-25, 25-20, 24-26, 25-11, 15-11 decision over UAI-Army at the start of the Premier Volleyball League Reinforced Conference at the Sta. Rosa Sports Complex in Laguna yesterday.
Russian import Elena Samoilenko shook off an early struggle with an explosive finish, pouring in three backrow hits in the stretch, the last capping their fightback from 1-5 down and spiking her awesome 35-point debut.
The 6-5 Samoilenko was so impressive that she kept on delivering the points from behind the line with Mika Reyes providing a clutch block off Jovelyn Gonzaga and the High Speed Hitters also pouncing on an Army’s passing error that put PLDT at match point, 14-10.
But playmaker Rhea Dimaculangan gave Army a respite with a flawed serve in the ensuing play before setting up Samoilenko for the clincher in the two-hour, six-minute encounter in a finish that should set the tone of the battle in the single round eliminations of the import-laced tournament.
PLDT, which finished fifth in the Open Conference and fourth in the Invitationals, earlier reeled from a sorry setback in the pivotal third as Army picked on the former’s erratic game and scored 12 points off unforced errors while yielding just one of its own.
But it was Samoilenko’s backrow attack that sailed long that helped anchor Army’s strong finish as the Lady Troopers tied the set at 23 before Honey Royse Tubino stepped up and scored the last two points on a block off Fiola Ceballos and a soft hit to an unguarded spot on Zone 5.
In a replay, however, Samoilenko’s hit grazed the fingers of an Army defender.
But the High Speed Hitters lived through that break and dominated the fourth with both coaches George Pascua (PLDT) and Kungfu Reyes (Army) opting to rest their respective reinforcements in anticipation of a grueling duel in the fifth.
Army got the better of PLDT and scored five of the first six points but the High Speed Hitters recovered in time to force a tie at 7 behind Samoilenko and Reyes aided by a couple of the Lady Troopers’ miscues.
A Gonzaga hit gave Army back the lead but after Samoilenko tied it again with her own blast, the High Speed Hitters took three of the next four points and bucked Army Canadian import Laure Condotta’s kill that closed the gap at 10-11 with a decisive 4-1 windup.
Chin Basas backed Samoilenko with 11 points while Reyes, Dell Palomata and Ceballos scored 10 points apiece and Dimaculangan added seven points for PLDT, which banged in 66 attack points, 15 more than Army.
The tall frontline of PLDT also produced 10 blocks against Army’s four but must make the necessary adjustments when they set for their second game against powerhouse and grand slam-seeking Creamline on Thursday after giving up 33 points on miscues.
Army, which yielded 21 unforced errors, drew 17 points apiece from Condotta and Tubino but Gonzaga settled for eight points and Jeanette Villareal and Ivy Perez combined for 12 points.
In the second game, Cignal overcame a slow start to give Akari a harsh welcome, 20-25, 25-23, 25-18, 25-16.
American import Tai Bierria top scored with 20 points on 17 attacks, two kill blocks, and an ace to go along with nine excellent digs for an HD Spikers side that missed the services of Ria Meneses and Jerrili Malabanan.
Malabanan was in street clothes while Meneses is still recovering from knee issues which also bothered her in the previous conference. On the other hand, Ces Molina only played the first two sets of the match as she is still recovering from a right ankle sprain.
“Of course I’m so happy sa performance niya,” Cignal head coach Shaq Delos Santos said when asked about Bierria’s PVL debut. “Sabi ko nga sa kanya marami pa kaming kailangan i-improve, marami pa kaming kailangan trabahuhin. Malayo pa, malayo pa yung performance ng team namin talagang kailangan pumukpok pa kami and trabahuhin pa namin talaga ng 101 percent.”
“Very thankful especially kay Lord. First win and not too good of a game for us but syempre mas magpe-prepare pa kami. Marami kaming natutunan so maghahanda pa kami sa next game namin.”
Ahead by just two points in the fourth, 15-13, Bierria, Chai Troncoso, and Angeli Araneta connived in a 6-1 run that gave them a seven-point, 21-14 advantage.
Chargers reinforcement Prisilla Rivera and Araneta then traded hits before Akari’s errors doomed them at the end. Akari ended the game with three attack faults.
Rose Doria added 13 points which included four blocks while Troncoso chipped in 12 points in just two sets played.
Gel Cayuna dished 23 excellent sets while also scoring four aces to finish with five points.
On the other hand, Rivera led the young Akari with 20 points on 17 attacks, two aces, and a block while rookie Erika Raagas had 16 points.