(UPDATED) The Creamline Cool Smashers averted a huge upset, rallying from a fifth set deficit to overcome Black Mamba-Army on Thursday afternoon at the PCV Socio-Civic Cultural Center in Bacarra, Ilocos Norte.
Alyssa Valdez shook off her early struggles and delivered in crunch time, scoring the last two points of Creamline's 20-25, 25-15, 25-27, 25-19, 15-13 triumph.
"We were so happy na nakahabol," said Valdez, who had 20 points and 17 digs in the win. "Iniisip namin is to really just get one point… At saka lagi sinasabi sa amin ni coach na we have to play our game. 'Yun ang nakakalimutan namin."
Tots Carlos, making her first start for Creamline, fired 26 points on 24 kills and two blocks, while Risa Sato had 13 points and Michele Gumabao scored 12. Jia Morado had three points and 37 excellent sets.
The hard-earned victory gave the Cool Smashers a 3-0 record in the 2021 Premier Volleyball League (PVL) Open Conference. They have now won 23 consecutive matches dating back to the 2019 edition of the event.
But it appeared as though that winning streak was on the verge of being broken as the Lady Troopers took a 2-1 advantage, pouncing on the Cool Smashers' error-prone ways while displaying superb floor defense.
The third set saw Creamline commit a whopping 16 unforced errors, offsetting their 20 kills. A poor pass by Valdez was converted into a point by the Lady Troopers for a 26-25 lead, and Gumabao sent her attack wide in the next rally to gift Army the winner.
The defending champions cleaned up their act in Set 4, limiting their errors to just four while tallying 14 kills. Carlos, the spark of their win over PetroGazz last Tuesday, came up big once again with three straight points that turned a slim 18-16 lead into a comfortable 21-16 advantage. Royse Tubino briefly kept Army alive, but Valdez fired a hit down the line to send the match to a deciding frame.
The Lady Troopers looked all set to snatch the victory as they raced to a 9-3 advantage in Set 5, with Creamline again shooting itself in the foot with errors. Unfortunately for Army, they too succumbed to miscues, with Jane Bautista called for consecutive violations that helped Creamline trim the deficit to two points, 9-7.
A block by Ging Balse-Pabayo on Jema Galanza and another Galanza error made it 12-9 for Army, but Creamline drew clutch plays from Carlos, Jeanette Panaga, and Valdez to knot the count at 12.
An offspeed hit by Carlos gave Creamline a 13-12 lead, before Balse tied the match for the last time, 13-all. In the same play, Creamline lost Panaga to an apparent ankle injury, as replays showed that she stepped on Valdez's foot upon landing. Panaga had to be helped to the bench, having scored nine points in the match.
Valdez then proceeded to wrap up the game, firing a crosscourt kill then winning a joust in the next rally to give Creamline the win after two hours and 10 minutes.
"Buti na lang, 'yung kaunting adjustment namin, nagbunga naman," said Creamline coach Sherwin Meneses. "So nakuha namin ang panalo."
Jovelyn Gonzaga led Black Mamba-Army with 18 points, while Tubino scored 14. Balse-Pabayo scored eight points off the bench.
Creamline gave away 39 free points off their errors, but made up for it with 72 kills to 48 for the Lady Troopers.
Black Mamba-Army dropped to 1-2 in the conference.