Cignal played with a crippled roster, but it hardly mattered for the HD Spikers as import Alexis Matthews upped her game to lead her team to a 25-21, 25-16, 25-14 victory over Victoria Sports-UST Saturday in the Chooks to Go-Philippine Superliga (PSL) Grand Prix at the Filoil Flying V Centre in San Juan.
Matthews was a solid force in front as she single-handedly towed the HD Spikers to a morale-boosting victory in the penultimate day of the elimination round of this prestigious club tourney bankrolled by Mikasa, Grand Sport, Senoh, Mueller, Island Rose, Cloudfone and UCPB Gen.
With the win, the HD Spikers formally closed their eliminations campaign at the fourth spot with a 4-4 win-loss card to book a quarterfinal duel with fifth-seed Cocolife on Thursday.
Matthews, the 6-foot-3 American middle blocker from Michigan State, did most of the damage at the middle as she knocked down 13 kills and six blocks for 19 points while winger Honey Royse Tubino chipped in eight markers for the HD Spikers, who missed the services of national team member Jovelyn Gonzaga and Rachel Anne Daquis.
Gonzaga crashed with a knee injury last week while Daquis is still in the hospital after being diagnosed with dengue fever.
Cignal coach George Pascua said while the victory boosts their confidence for the next round, local players such as Janine Marciano, Mylene Paat, Paneng Mercado and Tubino must all step up and deliver the numbers they will miss if and when Gonzaga and Daquis sit out anew.
“I’m happy with our performance, but the locals must step up,” said Pascua, adding that over-confidence nearly doomed their chances in the first set where the Tigresses erected a 20-15 lead before Matthews buckled down to work.
“Everybody is performing well and meets our expectations during training. But we should apply what we train and play a notch higher during actual games because things will start to get tough as we enter the quarterfinals.”
From a 15-20 disadvantage, Matthews imposed her will at the middle, allowing Mercado to convert a strong kill and Saet to knock down back-to-back aces for a 22-21 lead.
Shannen Palec tried to put the Tigresses back into the set with a successful attack, but Mylene Paat and Mathews delivered a pair of hits, giving the HD Spikers the set point, 24-22, and the confidence in the second and third sets.
“She (Matthews) played really great,” said Pascua, noting that his other import Beth Carey of Australia was simply out of rhythm. “I just hope she maintains that form in the quarterfinals.”
Carla Sandoval and Dimdim Pacres tallied 10 and nine markers, respectively, for the Tigresses, who kissed the tournament goodbye without a single victory in eight matches.
They, however, still emerged as biggest winners as they will carry all the lessons they gained in this high-level tourney to the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) wars starting February.