High Speed Hitters wear down Troopers, wrest early semis lead

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PLDT Home Fibr dispatched Army Black Mamba with efficient quick attacks and superb blocking, picking up from where it left off on its way to a 25-22, 25-18, 25-21 victory in yesterday’s start of the Premier Volleyball League Invitational Conference semifinals at the Filoil EcoOil Centre in San Juan.

The High Speed Hitters seized the initiative in all three sets, briefly blowing the lead in the opening frame, pulling away in the stretch in the next before thwarting the Lady Troopers’ fightback in the third that saw the latter take a big gamble that backfired.

For the High Speed Hitters had all the answers on every Army threat or ploy, either pouncing on their rivals’ miscues or simply imposing their will to make it two-in-row over the veteran-laden squad, which they toppled, 17-25, 25-11, 25-20, 25-18, in the elimination round of the mid-season conference of the league organized by Sports Vision.

Throughout their one-hour, 25-minute romp, Rhea Dimaculangan kept PLDT’s offense humming with her brilliant playmaking, setting up Mika Reyes or Dell Palomata for the quick hits or feeding Chin Baas, Fiola Ceballos or Jules Samonte for the kills on both wings. She finished with 24 excellent sets to clinch the game’s best player honors.

“We just trust each other,” said the former UST ace, who also chipped in two points. “This win is a big morale boost but we have to stay focused on our next games.”

That includes a rematch with Cignal HD, which it repelled it four to close out its elims campaign and secure a berth in the semis, in tomorrow’s twinbill that also features Creamline against Army at the Ynares Center in Antipolo.Guest squads Kobe Shinwa from Japan and KingWhale from Taiwan will make their debut on Aug. 8.

“I always tell them to start and finish well and execute the plays,” said PLDT coach George Pascua in Filipino. “Fortunately, we were able to achieve it but we still have a lot of adjustments to make because games can only get tougher and tougher.”

But Reyes made it look easy at the middle, bucking Army’s blockers to score the bulk of her top-scoring 16 points. Palomata also came away with 12 hits, while Basas, Ceballos and Samonte drilled in 11, 10 and nine points, respectively, for PLDT, which dominated Army in attack points, 52-39.

The High Speed Hitters also produced four block points, all in the second set, against their rivals’ one, and scored six aces, three more than the Lady Troopers, who were led by Honey Royse Tubino’s 10 points.

Army coach Kungfu Reyes pulled out setter Ivy Perez late in the third and opted for a three-hitter frontline as the Lady Troopers battled back from 13-18 down to force a tie at 19 on Mary Ann Esguerra’s looping serve, and at 20 on a Sarah Gonzales’ risky 1-2 play after Samonte scored on a down-the-line hit.

But Army’s Mich Morente served into the net and Nene Bautista’s attack in the next play went long and the High Speed Hitters took another three-point cushion on a Basas’ through-the-block hit before Reyes, doing what she does best, scored on a kill and another quick attack against Bautista’s lone point.

PLDT took control early and raced to 9-4 lead in the opening frame but Tubino hammered in three straight hits, including a tough angled blast, keying the Lady Troopers’ five-point binge to force a tie.

The Lady Troopers kept the game close, battling their rivals kill-for-kill and block-for-block then wrested the lead for the first time at 19-18 on a Gonzaga attack off a scrambling Perez feed.

Reyes tied it on a quick PLDT play with the High Speed Hitters barely coming out of error-filled endgame triumphant on a Wendy Semana ace that capped the team’s closing three-point run aided by a Gonzaga service error and a Joy Soyud drop shot.

The High Speed Hitters broke away from another tight skirmish in the second set on a 4-1 run that shattered a 12-all count then threatened to pull away at 20-14.

But after the Lady Troopers strung up three straight hits to close in, Palomata scored on a quick hit and the High Speed Hitters went 5-up again on a Tubino service miscue.

Reyes finished off the Lady Troopers with three straight hits, the first two on quick attacks and the last on a soft tip that set the stage for the High Speed Hitters’ strong start in the single round semis.

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