MANILA, Philippines – It will be a clash of the titans as defending champion Foton and perennial contender Petron tangle for the top spot in the semifinals of the 2016 Philippine Superliga (PSL) Grand Prix on Thursday at the Arena in San Juan.
The two teams currently share the top spot with identical 8-1 records, and there is no clear-cut favorite between the Tornadoes and the Tri-Activ Spikers when they meet at 7 p.m.
In the first game of Thursday's double-header, Cignal will try to avoid the sixth spot when it tackles RC Cola-Army at 5 p.m.
The Foton-Petron showdown may just be a preview of the Grand Prix's finals, and the winner will go on to seal the top spot in the semifinals set on December 3 at the Ibalong Centrum for Recreation in Lagazpi City.
The top seed will have an easier route to the finals, as it faces the survivor of the playoff between the fourth seed and the fifth seed.
Meanwhile, the second seed has to overcome the winner between the third seed and the sixth seed.
The best-of-three finals is slated to start on December 8.
Foton arguably enjoys the mental edge over Petron, having beaten the Tri-Activ Spikers in five sets when they first played back in November 8. However, Petron rebounded from that loss in splendid fashion, having now won four straight games with prolific import Stephanie Niemer at the helm.
Niemer torched the Tornadoes for 38 points, the highest offensive output in the league since former Mane 'N Tail reinforcement Kristy Jaeckel scored 40 points two years ago.
Petron coach Shaq delos Santos expects Niemer, as well as other key players like Frances Molina, Aiza Maizo-Pontillas, Jen Reyes, CJ Rosario and import Serena Warner, to be at their best, knowing the importance of the battle, which also serves as a rematch of their thrilling final duels last year.
"We will prepare hard for this game, knowing that Foton will be in full force," said Delos Santos.
Foton lost for the first time against F2 Logistics when they played without Jaja Santiago, who was in Japan for 12 days to join National University in a training camp. However, with Santiago back, the Tornadoes registered a five-set win over RC Cola Army, then a sweep of Cignal.
Foton coach Moro Branislav, however, does not see a pressing need to win over the Tri-Activ Spikers.
"We will use it just to prepare for the semifinals," he said. "Winning (over) Petron doesn't change a thing. We're still in the semifinals."
"The semis is the much bigger battle. One loss, and you're out. That's our main concern right now," he added.
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