For one last time, Petron and F2 Logistics return to the Filoil Flying V Center tonight to play for the marbles.
The country's best club teams in the country clash in Game 3 of their Philippine Superliga Grand Prix best-of-three finals series in a duel expected to be rich in intensity, drama and fire.
Opening serve is set at 7 p.m. with both the Blaze Spikers and Cargo Movers tipped to put everything behind and fight tooth and nail to chase the most prestigious and glamorous crown in Philippine volleyball.
The Cargo Movers drew first blood in the sixth chapter of their storied rivalry in this league with an impressive 25-20, 16-25, 25-23, 25-23, in Game 1 late Tuesday, snapping Petron’s 17-game winning streak and stepping a win away from winning the title.
But the Blaze Spikers refused to just roll over and die..
Behind another powerful performance from Americans Stephanie Niemer and Katherine Bell, Petron stormed back with a 23-25, 25-23, 25-14, 25-19 victory in Game 2 to set the stage for a kill-or-be-killed, winner-take-all Game 3 battle.
The hard-hitting Bell delivered 25 points and 24 digs while Niemer chipped in 23 hits for the Blaze Spikers, who finally drew impressive numbers from their local crew of Mika Reyes, Rhea Dimaculangan and Aiza Maizo-Pontillas.
Reyes, the comely former De La Salle University star, had seven kills, four blocks and a pair of aces for 13 points while veteran Maizo-Pontillas knocked down seven markers to compliment the 29 excellent sets tallied by her former University of Santo Tomas teammate in Dimaculangan.
Petron coach Shaq Delos Santos said their inspired performance in Game 2 was sparked by an open-forum, where they blurted out their feelings and made a commitment to go all out to finish the job and win the crown no matter what it takes.
“We accepted Game 1 as a challenge. It was a wakeup call,” said Delos Santos, whose bid to sweep the tournament was doomed by that sorry Game 1 loss.
“After losing in Game 1, we had an open forum where we allowed everybody to express their feelings.
“We had an open forum where we allowed everybody to express their feelings. We have to release all of those so we can feel the presence of each other. I’m glad that everybody stepped up and was on the same page all throughout the match.”
In both Games 1 and 2, Petron yielded the first set, allowing the F2 Logistics to build an early momentum and dictate the tempo. Fortunately for the Blaze Spikers, they managed to crawl out of trouble in Game 2 as Bell and Niemer spewed fire from the attack zone to gain control.
Delos Santos said they have to address their slow start if they want to lift the championship trophy again.
“We have to check our consistency, especially at the start of the match,” said Delos Santos, who is also the head coach of the national women’s volleyball team headed for the 30th Southeast Asian Games.
“We have to come up with a strong start and a stronger finish to avoid trouble. F2 Logistics is such a solid and veteran team. They will surely take advantage of the opportunity if we’ll have another slow start.”
F2 Logistics mentor Ramil de Jesus said Petron is definitely the country’s strongest team on paper so they will march into battle with no pressure and expectation.
After all, stretching the series to a deciding Game 3 is already a major achievement for a team that changed its import midway in the conference and has its star setter in Kim Fajardo riding the bench due to injury.
“We will play with no pressure from the team owners or managers. Whatever the results will be, everybody is already happy. Getting this far is already a significant achievement,” said de Jesus, who will bank anew on imports Lindsay Stalzer and Maria Jose Perez as well as the local crew of Ara Galang, Aby Marano and Dawn Macandili.
“But still, we will do our best. If we won in Game 1 over this strong Petron team, there’s no reason for us not to win in Game 3. We have to be ready. This is going to be a dogfight.”