By Jerome Lagunzad
BaliPure turned to opposite hitter Jerrili Malabanan down the stretch as the Water Defenders scored a resounding 25-22, 25-19, 25-22 win over Pocari Sweat last night in Game One of their race-to-three title duel in the 2017 Premier Volleyball League Open Conference crown at The Arena in San Juan.
The 5-foot-10 Malabanan stepped out of the shadows of her more touted teammates as she delivered three booming kills in the critical juncture that enabled BaliPure to recover its bearings after squandering an early 13-6 advantage in the third frame.
Malabanan’s timely exploits preserved the game-long brilliance of veteran Aiko Sweet Urdas, who finished with 15 points, spiked by 12 attacks, as the Water Defenders, denied by the Lady Warriors in the season-opening Reinforced Conference last June, earned two chances to return the favor starting on Wednesday’s Game 2.
“Itong mga batang ito, simple lang ang pag-iisip. Gusto lang nila manalo. Walang superstar (mentality),” admitted coach Roger Gorayeb, visibly pleased with BaliPure’s sustained drive despite being ranked the lowest in the playoffs at No. 4.
Lady Warriors star Myla Pablo hoisted the coveted MVP award plus the 1st Best Outside Spiker plum.
The other individual winners were BaliPure’s Gretchel Soltones (2nd Best Outside Spiker), Pocari Sweat’s Jeanette Panaga (1st Best Middle Blocker), BaliPure’s Risa Sato (2nd Best Middle Blocker), Air Force’s Iari Yongco (Best Opposite Spiker), Creamline’s Jia Morado (Best Setter) and Pocari Sweat’s Melissa Gohing (Best Libero).
Earlier, Creamline made quick work of Hairy Fairy Air Force 25-16, 25-21, 25-19 to move a victory away from clinching the bronze medal.
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