Creamline booked the first Final ticket in the 2023 Premier Volleyball League Invitational Conference with a close sweep of Kinh Bắc-Bắc Ninh, 25-23, 25-23, 25-17, on Tuesday afternoon at the Philsports Arena in Pasig.
The still-perfect Cool Smashers, who hold a 4-0 semis record, returned to the finals for the ninth time in the last 10 conferences, while Bắc Ninh moved to the brink of elimination as they remained winless in three games.
Jia De Guzman paced Creamline’s offense in their fourth straight victory with three points and 17 excellent sets, while Tots Carlos led its scoring punch with 16 points built on 14 attacks.
“Thankful kami sa mga players kasi syempre, nagrerespond sa mga sinasabi namin tsaka sa pinapagawa namin, kaya siguro nasa finals kami ulit. Pero syempre, lahat ng team gusto mag-champion, kaya hindi pa tapos yung goal namin,” said Cool Smashers head coach Sherwin Meneses.
After scoring an off-the-block hit in the early part of the third set, Kinh Bắc team captain Oanh Nguyen was stretchered out of the court after an apparent left knee injury.
Bắc Ninh used their captain’s injury as motivation, keeping the match tight as they knotted the third set at 15-all after a crosscourt hit from Xuan Le and a service error from Ced Domingo.
Creamline was not to be denied its back-to-back Invitationals chip hunt, closing the match on a 10-2 run behind a combined five-point spurt from Carlos and Domingo in that span, 25-17.
The Cool Smashers blew an eight-point lead in the second set behind an 8-0 run from Bắc Ninh, where Huong Nguyen scored five of their eight points to keep pace with the defending Invitationals champions, 19-19.
Kinh Bắc, however, fell victim to a Jeannette Panaga offspeed hit and a net touch to give Creamline a 2-0 set headstart in its hunt for the first Final seat, 25-23.
The Cool Smashers bucked a slow start where they trailed by seven markers through the midway point of the first set, 7-14.
However, Creamline rallied behind the late offensive spurt of Michele Gumabao, who scored three of its final six points to successfully mount a comeback against the Vietnamese squad, 25-23.
Huong Nguyen led Kinh Bắc in their third consecutive loss with 19 points, while Le entered double-digit territory, scoring 10 points on nine attacks.
Creamline looks to complete a sweep of the round-robin semis when it faces surging Kurashiki on Friday, while Bắc Ninh aims to tally its first PVL win when it clashes against Cignal on Thursday. (Ernest Martin Tuazon)