Flying Titans survive PLDT 6 in thriller, stay alive

CHOCO Mucho battled back from a horrible fourth-set showing and an early struggle in the decider then banked on Ponggay Gaston and Kat Tolentino’s heroic in the clutch to pound out a rousing 25-21, 25-17, 22-25, 10-25, 16-14 decision over PLDT Home Fibr before a roaring crowd in the Premiere Volleyball League Invitational at the Filoil EcoOil Centre on Thursday.

The thriller of a win didn’t only snap the Flying Titans’ three-week spell but it also kept them in the semifinal hunt after being pushed to the brink by a three-game skid hastened by the absence of Tolentino and a couple more of Choco Mucho aces due to various reasons.

But the crowd favorites were back in full force in a game they couldn’t afford to lose, blowing a 2-0 set lead and one match point but pulling through when it mattered most to the delight of their fans kept silent in the fourth set but came alive again in the stretch of a match that could’ve gone either way.

Tolentino unleashed a 24-kill game on her way to a 27-point blast after missing two games, Isa Molde came away with 11 hits, and Chery Nunag and Bea de Leon finished with 10 points apiece. But it was Gaston who delivered the key hits in the fifth that spiked the team’s fightback and surge, including a crucial kill off Dell Palomata and Chin Basas that moved the Flying Titans to second match point.

Choco Mucho also parlayed PLDT’s erratic finish, scoring five points off the latter’s miscues while yielding just one of their own. The Flying Titans lost the blocking battle overall, 11-14, but won in the fifth, 4-2, after the two teams matched nine attack points.

Jules Samonte and Basas scored 17 points each for PLDT, which also drew 16 points from Palomata and 13 from Mika Reyes but the High Speed Hitters just couldn’t pull it off in the end.

Choco Mucho remained at fifth at 2-3 but could force a tie for the fourth and last semifinal slot if either from idle Army or PLDT, toting identical 3-2 slates, or even Creamline, won’t go over three wins heading to the last single round elims playdate on Saturday.

No playoffs, however, will be held with the PVL points system to be used to break the.

The 3-1 Cool Smashers, meanwhile, were seeking to join the early semifinalists Cignal HD Spikers against the ousted Chery Tiggo Crossovers at presstime.

That makes the only triple-bill in the elims of the mid-season conference of the league organized by Sports Vision on Saturday so crucial for Army, PLDT and Choco Mucho.

The Lady Troopers slug it out with the Cool Smashers at 11:30 a.m., the High Speed Hitters battle the HD Spikers at 2:30 p.m. and the Flying Titans face the also-ran Petro Gazz Angels at 5:30 p.m.

The Flying Titans. who first and last won via a three-set romp over the Chery Tiggo Crossovers on July 9, rattled off four straight points to rally from 2-6 down in the fifth on a Gaston kill and went up by two on a flawed Basas attack coupled by the former Ateneo mainstay’s hit.

But the High Speed Hitters refused to crack and mounted their own fightback to set the stage for the pressure-packed, see-sawing finish. They wrested back the lead 10-9 on back-to-back Palomata blocks off Gaston and held sway at 12-11 on a Reyes hit that ended a long tense-filled rally.

But Tolentino foiled Samonte’s attack and de Leon put Choco Mucho back in the lead with another block off Samonte, screaming after dropping to the floor.

Gaston, however, made another attack error and Basas countered Tolentino’s kill to extend the match before Gaston put the Flying Titans again at match point with another power hit against Basas and Palomata.

After a frenzied exchange, Basas slammed her attack into the next, derailing the High Speed Hitters’ ride to the semis while rekindling the Flying Titans’ backdoor bid to crash into the next round.

It took a while before the Flying Titans, playing with their core for the first time in the last three games, could find their rhythm. But when they did, there was no stopping them, storming to a couple of five-point leads, the last at 16-11.

The High Speed Hitters did regroup and threaten to within, 17-18, but a Heather Guino-o service miscue and a Tolentino off-the-block fueled a decisive 7-4 closing run aided by Fiola Ceballos’ contested wide attack and capped by a Gaston service ace.

The Flying Titans, sustained their attack in the second frame and built leads of as many as 21-13 spiked by a four-point binge that included a Molde left-hand push that dropped on an unguarded spot on Zone 2.

Choco Mucho reached set point on a Guino-o service error, a Molde through-the-block hit and a Nunag quick attack and after PLDT saved two set points on a flawed Molde serve and a Samonte kill, the Flying Titans went two sets up on a Basas’ wide attack.

But the High Speed Hitters proved far from being finished, taking control early in the third set then dominating the fourth to set up the third match that went the distance in the conference.