(UPDATED) The Petro Gazz Angels are one win away from securing a third-place finish in the 2021 Premier Volleyball League (PVL) Open Conference.
Myla Pablo scored the clutch hits in the fourth set as the Angels claimed a 25-21, 25-15, 22-25, 25-20 triumph in Game 1 of their battle for the bronze on Wednesday afternoon at the PCV Socio-Civic Cultural Center in Bacarra, Ilocos Norte.
Game 2 of the best-of-three series is set for Thursday, still at the Ilocos Norte venue, with another win assuring the Angels of a podium finish in the first-ever professional volleyball league in the country.
Meanwhile, it was a costly defeat for the Flying Titans who lost middle blocker Maddie Madayag to a left knee injury midway through the fourth set. Choco Mucho was playing its sixth game in as many days.
"Kanina, kung sino pinasok namin, nag-deliver," noted Petro Gazz coach Arnold Laniog.
"Usapan talaga namin na hindi naman pwede uuwi tayo na walang dala. So lahat naman nagbigay ng best, lahat nagsalita na sige, pagtulungan natin," he added.
Pablo led the way in Petro Gazz's victory, scoring 26 points on 25 attacks. Grethcel Soltones added 13 points on 10 kills and two aces. Ces Molina finished with 11 points, and Ria Meneses scored five of her 10 points on blocks.
Petro Gazz's offense clicked in the opening set, as they had an 18-8 advantage in terms of kills. They still had to fend off the Flying Titans' comeback attempt, however, with back-to-back aces by Regine Arocha making it a one-point game, 22-21. But Pablo and Molina came up big, scoring the final three points to give the Angels the opener.
Armed with momentum, Petro Gazz cruised in the second set but Choco Mucho came alive in the third, thanks to Ponggay Gaston who carried the Flying Titans' offense. Gaston drilled three straight hits that tied the match at 20-all, before Pablo answered with a crosscourt hit to give Petro Gazz a 21-20 lead.
But the Flying Titans won five of the last six points, with Kat Tolentino's crosscourt attack sending the match to a fourth set.
"Ang Choco Mucho, hindi mo talaga ma-underestimate, individually and as a group," Laniog pointed out. "Mental toughness lang talaga."
It was back-and-forth in the fourth set but the Flying Titans suffered a blow when Madayag had to be helped off the court due to an apparent knee injury. Madayag was blocked at the net by Meneses and her knee buckled upon landing. She did not return to the game.
The Flying Titans still had a 20-19 lead off a Gaston hit but that was when Pablo took over. After a Kim Gequilana service error tied the set, Pablo scored three consecutive points to put Petro Gazz in control. An ace by Soltones put the Angels at match point, and an attack error by Tolentino wrapped up the win for Petro Gazz.
"Talagang iba 'yung tournament na ito," said Laniog. "It's more on the mental game. Hindi na all about the skills, talagang sa mental, kung paano mag-prepare as individuals and as a team."
Gaston finished with 18 points, and Tolentino added 10 markers.