MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATED) Kat Tolentino came alive in the final two sets to power the Choco Mucho Flying Titans to a hard-earned five-set triumph against the PLDT High Speed Hitters on Tuesday at the FilOil Flying V Centre in San Juan.
In front of thousands of fans at the San Juan venue, the Flying Titans recovered from a meltdown in the third set to snatch a 25-21, 23-25, 29-31, 25-15, 15-11 victory.
With the result, Choco Mucho punched its ticket to the semifinals of the 2022 Premier Volleyball League (PVL) Open Conference, where they will play sister team Creamline in a best-of-three series. The High Speed Hitters drop to the classification phase.
"The team fought," said Tolentino, who scored all 19 of her points off kills. "It was a tough one, but I'm really grateful for this team."
The Flying Titans had a twice-to-beat advantage after finishing second in Pool A, and it appeared that they would need it following a meltdown in the third set.
They had a 24-21 advantage in Set 3 but saw it evaporate behind kills from Jules Samonte and Chin Basas, as well as an ace by Rhea Dimaculangan that forced a deuce. It was back-and-forth from there, with both teams exchanging big hits. PLDT also shot itself in the foot with unforced errors, but finally reached set point, thanks to a Mika Reyes hit, 30-29. Ponggay Gaston's attack went straight to the net in the next rally, and PLDT completed the come-from-behind win.
But the Flying Titans recovered in the fourth, thanks to Tolentino who finally found her rhythm after a slow start. The High Speed Hitters also looked a step slow, committing a bevy of errors that helped Choco Mucho force a decider.
Tolentino continued to wax hot in the fifth, firing a hit that made it 8-5. But unforced errors by the Flying Titans allowed PLDT to knot the count at 8, before Tolentino unleashed a crosscourt kill to give her team back the lead.
From there, the Flying Titans scored five of the next six points to move to match point, 14-9. Back to back kills by Basas momentarily kept PLDT in the hunt, but Jules Samonte committed an attack error that ended their chances of a comeback.
"I had a slow start, but my teammates were there," said Tolentino at the end of the two-hour, 29-minute marathon.
"They deserve POG (Player of the Game). It's not just me, because for me, I really felt their support. Just towards the end, I was able to contribute, but yeah, just thankful for them. It's really a team effort," she added.
Isa Molde had 18 points on 14 kills, three blocks, and an ace, and helped keep the Flying Titans afloat before Tolentino took charge late. Aduke Ogunsanya had 12 points, including five blocks. Deanna Wong was credited with 30 excellent sets.
Basas led PLDT with 16 points, and Dell Palomata had 15 points including two aces. The High Speed Hitters kept up with Choco Mucho offensively, even tallying a 65-62 advantage in hits. They also had a 10-2 advantage on aces to offset a 10-2 deficit in blocks.
But the High Speed Hitters also gave away a whopping 43 points off their own errors, none more costly than Samonte's final mishit.