By Kristel Satumbaga
PetroGazz recovered from a second set stumble before dethroning Creamline, 25-15, 28-30, 25-23, 25-19, on Sunday in the Premier Volleyball League Season 3 Reinforced Conference Finals at the Ynares Center in Antipolo City.
It was the first title for the Angels since debuting in the league in last year’s Reinforced Conference, where they settled for fifth place.
It was a stronger and more aggressive PetroGazz this time with Cuban import Wilma Salas and American reinforcement Janisa Johnson steering the squad with hard-hitting spikes, weakening Creamline’s defense.
Salas exploded for 30 points spiked by 26 kills and four blocks although it was Johnson’s all-around plays in the crunch that earned her the Finals Most Valuable Player award.
Johnson pumped in 23 points built on 19 kills and three aces while making 13 digs.
“It’s been quite a journey not only for me but also for the whole team. We’ve been wanting this since the beginning and we just couldn’t believe that we’re now here,” said Johnson, who averaged 22 points in the finals series.
PetroGazz stayed alive after taking Game 2, 15-25, 25-22, 25-22, 25-12, less than 24 hours at The Arena in San Juan City and rode on that momentum en route to a breakthrough title win. They lost in last week’s Game 1, 24-26, 25-16, 25-16, 25-22.
It was an impressive run for PetroGazz, which finished the double-round eliminations on top with a 9-1 win-loss record before sweeping the best-of-three semifinals against BanKo Perlas.
PetroGazz coach Arnold Laniog credited it to his team’s drive to prove its worth, knowing that it was facing a championship-caliber team spearheaded by Conference Most Valuable Player Alyssa Valdez.
“Yung commitment ng players, nakita ko talaga sa training. Hindi birong kalaban ang Creamline, pero yung desire and drive ng players, yun ang nagdala sa amin dito sa championship,” said Laniog, who also clinched his first title as a mentor.
Valdez scored 22 points and Thai import Kuttika Kaewpin added 17 points, but the Cool Smashers couldn’t douse the fire from PetroGazz particularly in the fourth frame.
Proving the locals’ strength, PetroGazz rallied from a 14-all tie behind Jeanette Panaga, setter Djanel Cheng and Cherry Nunag before Johnson delivered the game-winning kill.