With both teams sporting identical 2-1 slates entering the match-up, the Philippine Air Force and Bali Pure needed to win this to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Knowing this, the Lady Jet Spikers displayed more urgency than the Purest Water Defenders, as last season’s Open Conference second-placers were able to take a five-set win, 23-25, 25-21, 25-21, 18-25, 15-11, Sunday evening at the Filoil Flying V Centre in San Juan City.
The win created a logjam at second as Air Force and Pocari Sweat are now tied at second.
“Sa akin, malaking chance ito para makaabot sa Top Four spot. Dalawang panalo na lang at makukuha namin yun,” said Air Force head coach Jasper Jimenez. “Maganda yung nilaro ng mga bata. Nakapag-adjust na si Dell [Palomata] at na-stop namin yung [Risa] Sato. Ang hirap ii-stop. Maganda panalo ito para amin.”
Jocemer Tapic led Air Force with 17 points, while Iari Yongco added 16 markers. But as Jimenez had mentioned, it was Palomata who proved to be the difference, scoring 16 points off the bench.
“Malaking bagay si Palomata sa amin,” Jimenez remarked about the 6-foot-3 middle blocker. “Kulang talaga kami sa gitna, buti na lang maganda yung pagkabunot ko sa kanya. Palomata is a big factor for us.”
Air Force raced to an early 8-3 lead in the fifth set, but Sato willed Bali Pure back, scoring two straight points. Jerrili Malabanan and Grethcel Soltones then joined the party, with the latter capping a huge rally that sliced the lead to just three, 10-13.
Palomata then turned the tides. The 21-year-old scored on an emphatic spike to send Air Force to match point. After a Soltones kill on the other end, Palomata did an encore to seal the win for Air Force.
“Sabi ko wag niyong ibigay, kung sila nag-dou-double time na maghabol, dapat mag-triple time tayo para makuha na natin ito,” commented Jimenez. “Yung momentum nasa kanila, buti nai-stop namin at naka-pull away kami nung start ng set.”
Bali Pure uncharacteristically committed 34 errors in the contest.
Soltones, Malabanan, and Aiko Urdas paced Bali Pure with 17 points each. Jasmine Nabor dished out a whopping 65 excellent sets in the contest.
Air Force will next face the Power Smashers on Sunday, July 23, at 4:00pm. Bali Pure, on the other hand, look to bounce back when they face the Perlas-BanKo Spikers on Saturday, July 22, at 4:00pm.
Air Force (3) – Tapic 17, Palomata 16, Yongco 16, Pantino 12, Cases 6, Antipuesto 3, Semana 2, Caballejo 1, Balmaceda (L).
Bali Pure (2) – Soltones 17, Malabanan 17, Urdas 17, Sato 15, Mendiola 5, Nabor 2, Nuval 0, Singh 0, Pantone (L), Eroa (L).