There were tense moments for BaliPure when it looked like Game 1 of their semi-finals match versus Pocari Sweat would be a carbon copy of their five-set meltdown that closed out their elimination round meeting.
The crowd favorites soaked in the electric atmosphere that was jumpstarted by their crazy wonderful fans who came out with mosaics greeting BaliPure team captain and volleyball wunderkind Alyssa Valdez a happy birthday.
Valdez had that volleyball house along Pinaglabanan Street in San Juan rocking when she opened the game with stupendous serves — and three aces — that saw her side go up, 6-0, before a service error gave the ball to Pocari Sweat.
Just as it was in their previous encounter, it seemed like BaliPure could do no wrong. Mae Tajima, resurgent and giving many to pause to wonder why she didn’t play this way in the past UAAP — she ascertains that she wasn’t given a chance -- was a force in the middle. The other two power spikers — Grethcel Soltones and Dzi Gervacio — were dropping bombs. Amy Ahomiro was crafty with her attacks and drop shots.
However, the Pocari Sweat Lady Warriors rebounded behind the smart play of Michelle Gumabao who returned the favor. She scored on a block, served an ace, and inspired her team to come within a point, 8-7.
After an Elaine Kasilag error stopped the Lady Warriors’ momentum giving the ball back to BaliPure, Soltones was at the service area. Her thunderous jump serves that dipped sharply gave Pocari Sweat no chance to set the ball. Over-received, they were sitting ducks for Alyssa Valdez who had rotated into the middle. She whacked the ball on two consecutive over-receives for massive points.
Pocari Sweat battled back to forge a tie at 17-all behind Myla Pablo Desiree Dadang. Consecutive miscues by middle hitter Lutgarda Malaluan (two touches) and Kasilag (net touch) gave BaliPure a lead they didn’t relinquish. Tajima closed the door on Pocari with a spike down the middle to give the first set to BaliPure, 25-20.
The second set saw BaliPure hold off Pocari Sweat that battled through miscommunication and receiving problems. They fell, 25-19, and looked to be swept. It was at this juncture that utility hitter Janine Marciano, coming off the bench, came in and gave BaliPure a lift with some nifty play. Looking more at ease with the role as Gervacio rotated to the bench, Marciano provided points from the middle and the wing.
The third set saw the Purest Water Defenders commit awkward errors that had everyone thinking of their elimination round collapse. However, this time, the 26-24 result, went BaliPure’s way as Amy Ahomiro closed out the match with an ace.
BaliPure now has the edge with a chance to close out their semis series on Saturday.
“No collapse,” exhaled BaliPure head coach Charo Soriano while munching on a slice of pizza alongside Valdez in the post-match interview. “Puwede na mag-relax ng kaunti.”
Soriano later confided that the win is a big one that will contribute to the evolution of the newly formed volleyball team.
"We took two losses -- to Philippine Air Force and to Pocari Sweat. They are the standard in V-League volleyball. If we want to really compete for a championship, you have to get past them. Right now, we've taken one step. We need to take another. But it's a big step."
“Last game, we were not getting blocks and touches from Pocari’s open hitters. We were getting a lot of check out balls. They were getting a lot of scores from that. This time, we pressed in with a lot of lower blocks and magpa-delay ng kaunti. They hit very high but they hit high (going) downwards so if we also block high we will get pulled a lot. Janine Marciano super helped in this game. She was very positive coming in as a middle even if she is an open or utility hitter.”
“This girl,” said Soriano, referring to Valdez, who led BaliPure with 24 points, “went crazy. What coach wouldn’t like that start?”
Soriano also said she was happy for the games and serves of both Gervacio and Soltones.
Soltones was criticized in some quarters with her decision-making on her hitting and that crucial jump serve in the fifth set of their elimination round loss to Pocari Sweat that led to the loss.
“As a coach, when you see a player like that (not changing their serves), you can see their confidence and that they don’t doubt themselves. Seeing that from a coaching perspective is good. Everyone was ready and everyone was taking risks. No one was afraid of making mistakes.”
Soriano also commended setter Jem Ferrer for her blocking and her drop shots that wreaked havoc on the Lady Warriors’ defense.
In one of her more vociferous displays of gratitude towards the fans, Valdez was impressed with the fans’ support that buoyed the team. "Sobrang extra effort sila but their presence and effort going into the game helped. Sobrang unconditional yung support."
Soltones added 11 points for BaliPure.
For Pocari Sweat, Michelle Gumabao and Elaine Kasilag both scored 11 points. Myla Pablo who led Pocari with 24 points during their elimination round win over BaliPure was held to eight points.
(For more sports coverage, visit the ABS-CBN Sports website.)
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.