MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATED) The Choco Mucho Flying Titans are on the brink of a podium finish in the 2022 Premier Volleyball League (PVL) Open Conference.
This, after they held off the Cignal HD Spikers in four sets, 25-17, 25-21, 21-25, 25-22, in Game 1 of the battle for third place on Wednesday afternoon at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Facing a hobbled Cignal side, the Flying Titans raced to a two-set lead but faltered in the third frame when the HD Spikers' reserves stepped up. They also trailed early in the fourth frame before regaining their bearings down the stretch.
"The job is not yet done," said Choco Mucho coach Oliver Almadro, whose team is seeking a first-ever podium finish since joining the PVL. "I know Cignal is a good team, so we are just pushed. So kailangan pa namin mag-step up, and kailangan namin mag-adjust kung ano 'yung mga hindi namin nakuha kanina."
"Good thing, everybody delivered. 'Yung mga nasa bench, quality minutes [sila]," he said. "I really appreciate those na mga starters naman namin."
Kat Tolentino poured 23 points on 19 kills, three blocks and an ace, while Bea de Leon had 11 points and Desiree Cheng tallied 10 markers. Setter Deanna Wong had 30 excellent sets as well as 26 digs in the match.
The HD Spikers were not at full strength, with middle blocker Ria Meneses sitting out a bulk of the match, while team captain Rachel Anne Daquis only played starting the second set. Setter Gel Cayuna was rotated in and out of the game along with Ayel Estranero.
Despite this, Cignal HD snatched the third set, thanks to Klarisa Abriam, Marist Layug, and Jerrili Malabanan, who maximized the minutes given to them. A crosscourt hit by Abriam followed by a Layug block on Choco Mucho's Isa Molde gave them a 22-17 lead in Set 3, and it was a Malabanan hit that sent the match to a fourth set.
The HD Spikers looked as though they would force a decider as they scored the first four points of Set 4, but their errors as well as big hits by Tolentino allowed Choco Mucho to work their way back. From a 20-20 deadlock, Cignal HD committed three straight errors to put the Flying Titans in control, 23-20.
Back-to-back kills from Roselyn Doria and Ces Molina temporarily kept the HD Spikers in it, but a miscalculation by Abriam put the Flying Titans at match point and Ponggay Gaston's off-the-block hit proved too strong for Cignal HD in the final rally.
"[Cignal] had a lot to offer, but then I think we just had a bit more fight towards the end," said Tolentino. "I think that's what got us the win."
Doria led Cignal HD with 12 points, and Molina contributed 11. Abriam and Daquis each had 10 points, while Layug scored four of her seven points on blocks.
Choco Mucho can seal the bronze medal with another win on Friday's Game 2.