MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATE 2) The Creamline Cool Smashers are one win away from a return trip to the finals after gutting out a four-set victory over PacificTown Army in the semifinals of the 2019 Premier Volleyball League Reinforced Conference.
Kuttika Kaewpin anchored the defending champions' attack in their 26-24, 25-21, 23-25, 25-20 triumph in Game 1 on Wednesday at the FilOil Flying V Centre in San Juan.
The import put up 21 points, all on kills, as the Cool Smashers made the big plays down the stretch of the first, second, and fourth sets to outlast the Lady Troopers.
It was Creamline's 10th straight win in the tournament. The Cool Smashers have not lost since dropping their opening game to PetroGazz back on May 26.
"It's the semifinals," said Creamline captain Alyssa Valdez. "We know na Army won't just give it away, and hindi naman madali nilang ibibigay sa amin. I guess Army did their job also, playing well in this game."
Aleo Blanco had 19 points on 12 kills, 4 blocks and 3 aces, while Valdez finished with 12 points in the game. Creamline benefited from 30 unforced errors that the Lady Troopers committed.
It was a close game all throughout, with Creamline out-executing Army down the stretch of the first and second sets.
They were at set point, 24-22, in the opening frame when kills by Olena Lymrareva-Flink and Ging Balse-Pabayo knotted the count. But Kaewpin responded with a hit of her own, before Flink sent her last attack wide to hand the winning point to Creamline.
The Cool Smashers were up 18-14 in the second frame when the Lady Troopers pounced on their shaky reception to score 5 straight points and seize the lead, 19-18. But the Cool Smashers scored 7 of the last 9 points, with Kaewpin again overwhelming the Army blockers in the final point.
The tables turned in the third set, as Army raced to a 19-11 lead, prompting Creamline coach Tai Bundit to send in his shock troopers. The move appeared to work, as the Creamline reserves headlined by setter Kyle Negrito and Jema Galanza anchored a 7-1 run to make it a 2-point game, 18-20.
They tied the game at 22, thanks to back-to-back violations by the Lady Troopers. Flink would not be denied, however, and the Ukrainian import scored 2 of their last 3 points, including the off-the-block hit that proved to be the winner.
The Lady Troopers couldn't complete a comeback in the fourth frame, however. Creamline claimed a 23-17 advantage off a Kaewpin hit, before kills by Royse Tubino and Flink trimmed the deficit. The Cool Smashers maximized the presence of Blanco in the middle, and the towering import nailed the quick kill that won the match for the Cool Smashers.
"At the end of the day, we really have to improve a lot," said Valdez. "Army did well, so sa next game, kailangan talaga (ng improvement)."
The Lady Troopers were playing without head coach Kungfu Reyes, who is with the Under-23 national team for a tournament in Thailand. Patricia Torres called the shots for PacificTown Army.
Flink finished with 31 points on 25 kills, 4 aces, and 2 blocks, while Tubino had 14 points and Jovelyn Gonzaga added 10 markers for the Lady Troopers.
Game 2 of the best-of-3 series is on Saturday at the Ynares Center in Antipolo.
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