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PSL Campfire AFC Finals: It’s Petron’s to lose

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Picture yourself playing one of those Free-to-Play smartphone games. Because you’re a practical human being with better things to spend your money on, you refuse to spend money or use your credit card to bypass some of the game’s paywall features (i.e. that timer in Candy Crush you can refresh instantly if you pay a dollar, premium currency like diamonds in Clash of Clans or Hay Day, or exclusive weapons, characters, or features that are paid for with real money). You enjoy the game just fine without having to dole out cash. But then your rich, impractical friend decides to get in on the gane with you. Before you know it, he’s beating the crap out of you with his over-leveled character that he got by literally paying for every advantage he could get. That friend is the Petron Blaze Spikers.

Philippine Sports News - Tiebreaker Times PSL Campfire AFC Finals: It's Petron's to lose

I’m not saying that what how Petron’s team was built is impractical. But it did create a giant chasm of talent level between them and the nest teams. It’s undeniable. From the moment the official lineups for each team was released in the PSL’s first press conference, one could tell that Petron was going to plow through the entire league, and to make their way with relative ease to the Finals. Once they got their legs under them in the second round, Petron was simply too good for everyone else.

Philippine Sports News - Tiebreaker Times PSL Campfire AFC Finals: It's Petron's to lose

Shopinas, on the other hand, experienced so much turnover from last season with most of their stars going on an exodus to more stable pastures. But, whatever their name may be, they have a core of La Sallians; coaches and players who aren’t used to losing and know how to win championships. The Lady Clickers persisted through a tough season; overcoming a severe lack of practice time and learning literally during games how to incorporate their new players. They now have a grizzled group of veterans and young players who just keep finding ways to win really close games. But make no doubt about it, this Shopinas team is totally different from the Generika squad that made the Finals in last season’s Grand Prix and they’re underdogs against Petron.

So, just how much of an advantage does Petron have over Shopinas? What does Shopinas need to overcome the Petron onslaught? Let’s run through the answers to those and more in the following.

Cooking with Gas

 
Based off my personal game notes from the entire season, here are the Top 5 sources of points for each team without counting opponent’s errors:

Petron:
Manabat Running Attack
Daquis Open Hit
Maraño Running Hit
Manabat Quick Hit
Morada Attacks

Shopinas:
Mercado Open Hit
Cruz Open Hit
Mandapat Opposite Hit
Dy Quick Attack
Angustia Quick Attack

Philippine Sports News - Tiebreaker Times PSL Campfire AFC Finals: It's Petron's to lose

Shopinas is mainly powered by their two top options as Mercado and Cruz have produced most of the points off attacks from the left side of the net. It’s easier for teams to set for open hits as setters just need to keep the ball relatively high which is less complicated to do off digs and bad receptions. Other than those options, Shopinas didn’t show other go-to attacks aside from quick attacks from their middle blockers off good receptions which causes their offense to stagnate at times. Expect their offense to be miles better than where it was during their last game as the nearly two-week break they got should have given them a lot of opportunities to practice and to add plays.

Philippine Sports News - Tiebreaker Times PSL Campfire AFC Finals: It's Petron's to lose

Petron had a much more nuanced offense. Dindin Santiago-Manabat is the second best offensive player in the country just behind Alyssa Valdez, and Dindin’s cornucopia of attacks have given Petron an undeniable edge. She attacks from everywhere with her patented running attack being featured as Petron’s main attack. Aside from her, Petron had a wealth of other options in their newly acquired stars, Aby Maraño, Rachel Anne Daquis and Frances Molina, and their holdovers from last season in Maica Morada, Fille Cainglet, and Mina Aganon. Four different players have led Petron in scoring this season and they settled in with Mary Grace Masangkay as their setter after fumbling with the idea of the enigmatic Ivy Perez in the starting six.

Petron out-attacked all of their opponents by double-digits this season. They have no weak rotation in their starting six, constantly having three or more attacking options with a few of their players able to fluently attack frok the back row. Defending against Petron’s offense is going to be an adventure for Shopinas. Manabat and Maraño’s running attack require perfect timing and placement of blockers and back row players to defend successfully. When you set your defense up for that, the Blaze Spikers have shifted their attack to other options with relative ease. So the trick is to not let Petron get anything setup which leads us to…

Service, Reception, or Something like it

 
Petron really only had their backs against the wall twice this season and one of those matches was their first round meeting against Shopinas. The Lady Clickers were able to go up two sets to love with focused floor defense and loaded services. The Lady Clickers’ blocking also showed in that match as they may not have tallied that many block points but they were able to intercept enough of Petron’s attacks, keep the ball in play, and get a counter attack going.

Serving will be key for Shopinas this series as reception is the one thing Petron has been frequently shaky at this season. The Lady Clickers have float servers who can target players on the other side of the court effortlessly. Shopinas will have their targets against Petron. As good a back row attackers Manabat has been, her reception often eludes her so sending serves in her area may not only produce aces but should make it difficult for Manabat to setup for a back row attack, eliminating an option for Petron.

Philippine Sports News - Tiebreaker Times PSL Campfire AFC Finals: It's Petron's to lose

Shopinas will have to be on-point, not only with serving, but also with blocking to be able to build leads or to erase deficits off their side-outs. But that’s easier said than done against Petron who are anchored by one of the country’s best liberos in Jen Reyes. She is probably the league’s best digger and receiver and has saved hundreds of points for her team. Aside from her, Morada and Maraño have been steady in the back row. Maraño, specifically, has taken her defensive game to a whole new level with her blocking still being incredibly threatening.

Philippine Sports News - Tiebreaker Times PSL Campfire AFC Finals: It's Petron's to lose

The Lady Clickers need to stay steady the entire series and coax their foes into errors as they did against Foton in their match to get into the Finals. Shopinas has won multiple big games by just buckling down, defending and letting their opponents make errors in crucial situations.

Overall, this is going to be quite an uphill battle for Coach Ramil’s Lady Clickers. Coach Pascua has his uber-talented Blaze Spikers peeking at the right time when they made the Finals. If there’s any chance for an upset, it will be critical for the Lady Clickers to be aggressive right from Game One in Cavite to take advantage of a predicted lackadaisical effort from the favorites. If this were like last season’s single game Final, this would really be anyone’s game. But, in a series, the better team always comes out on top and it’s hard to argue that any team has been better than undefeated Petron.

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Miguel Luis Flores fell face first into sports writing in high sch9l and has never gotten up. He reluctantly stumbled into the volleyball beat when he started with Tiebreaker Times three years ago. Now, he has waded through everything volleyball - from its icky politics to the post-modern art that is Jia Morado's setting.

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