MANILA, Philippines – (UPDATED) After two seasons, the BaliPure Water Defenders finally earned their breakthrough championship in the Premier Volleyball League.
Displaying composure down the stretch, the Water Defenders outlasted defending champion Pocari Sweat, 25-20, 19-25, 25-23, 26-24, in Game 2 of the PVL Open Conference finals on Wednesday at FilOil Flying V Centre.
It is BaliPure's first title since joining the league last season, and gave the Water Defenders a measure of revenge against the Lady Warriors, who defeated them in the finals of the Reinforced Conference two months ago.
With the impressive victory on Wednesday, BaliPure not only swept Pocari in the finals, but it also handed the Lady Warriors their first loss in the finals since the Philips Gold franchise joined the league last year, too.
"I don't look at it as bumawi kami," said BaliPure coach Roger Gorayeb of their rematch. "Regardless kung sino man 'yan, lalaro kami ng mahusay talaga. Lalaro tayo para mag-champion tayo, kahit sino man 'yan."
BaliPure and Pocari split the first two sets, setting the stage for a nervy third frame.
The Water Defenders pulled away thanks to a five-point binge anchored by Grethcel Soltones to seize an 18-12 advantage. They were still ahead, 20-14, but the Lady Warriors slowly but surely worked their way back thanks to conference MVP Myla Pablo.
A net touch called on Pablo put BaliPure at set point, 24-21, but Pablo made up for her error with back-to-back powerful hits to make it a one-point game. Off a timeout, however, Soltones smartly placed a drop shot into an unguarded zone to push the Water Defenders to victory.
BaliPure looked as though it was cruising to the title, surging to an 18-13 lead in Set 4, but again, the Lady Warriors showed hearts of champions as they clawed their way back into the game.
With its net defense on point, Pocari Sweat frustrated Jerrili Malabanan and Aiko Urdas to make it a one-point game, 19-20. A kill by Urdas made it 21-19, but Pocari responded with three straight points – capped by a stunning down-the-line kill from Pablo – to suddenly go up 22-20.
The Water Defenders responded with their own three-point run – anchored on kill blocks by Macy Mendiola – to reach match point, 24-22, but a block by Cai Nepomuceno on Soltones and a violation by Urdas allowed Pocari Sweat to force deuce.
BaliPure, however, would not be denied. Soltones elevated for a booming crosscourt kill for her team's second match point, and Jasmine Nabor sealed the deal with a brilliant 1-2 play.
"'Yung mga pinagdaanan namin this conference… we almost didn't make it to the semis," Gorayeb pointed out. "Pagpasok sa semis, we lost the first game."
"But again, the girls persevered. Pagdating ngayon, iba na 'yung karakter nila," he stressed.
Soltones finished with 21 points on 17 attacks and three aces, and was named MVP of the Finals. Urdas added 16 points, and Risa Sato finished with 15 markers.
BaliPure's execution on offense was key to the victory, as the Water Defenders tallied 57 attack points compared to only 47 for the Lady Warriors. Pocari countered with 10 blocks, but the Water Defenders connected on 11 service aces.
Pablo, the conference MVP who was doubtful ahead of the game due to an illness, finished with 21 points on 17 attacks and four kill blocks.
Nepomuceno added 16 points, but no other Lady Warrior scored in double-digits as they suffered their first ever Finals loss in the PVL.
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