Petron runs out of gas

Petron suffered a crushing 25-22, 18-25, 22-25, 15-25 setback to Foton in the final day of the preliminaries of the 2016 Philippine Superliga Grand Prix Thursday at the FilOil Flying V Center in San Juan.

It was such a sorry loss for the Tri-Activ Spikers.

Import Stephanie Niemer delivered 22 kills, two blocks and three aces for game-high 27 points, but her effort wasn’t enough as she failed to generate enough support from Serena Warner, Aiza Maizo-Pontillas and Frances Molina.

The loss relegated Petron to second spot in the semifinals, pitting them against a well-oiled F2 Logistics side just in case the Cargo Movers made true to their promise of dominating struggling Cignal in the sudden-death playoffs.

More than anything else, the setback was like a huge blackeye on the Tri-Activ Spikers’ faces as the Tornadoes remain as the only team that they have yet to overcome in this prestigious tournament.

Although observers believe that Foton was simply too tough, too powerful to clobber, Petron head coach Shaq Delos Santos offered a very basic and simple explanation: We simply ran out of gas.

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‘Not for us’

Delos Santos, who was part of George Pascua’s coaching staff when Petron tallied a historic 13-0 sweep of the All Filipino Conference last year, said it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to dissect how they lost to this gem of a team in Foton Tornadoes.

Foton and Petron are two of the league’s most successful teams.

Petron won the Grand Prix title two years ago with Alaina Bergsma and Erica Adachi as reinforcements, but Foton stormed back and knocked the crown on its head through the help of Lindsay Stalzer and Katie Messing last year.

This year, the rivalry got even more intense.

Foton acquired Dindin Manabat from Petron before recruiting Moro Branislav of Serbia as head coach. On the other hand, Petron replaced Pascua with Delos Santos and acquired the services of former national team skipper Ian Fernandez, who was part of Foton’s coaching staff when it won the Grand Prix last year.

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Rivalry renewed

The first match between these two elite teams went the distance.

Niemer torched the Tornadoes for a conference-high 38 points. But she simply couldn’t pull the trigger down the stretch, paving the way for the Tornadoes to post a nail-biting five-set conquest.

That’s why their second meeting was a much-publicized affair.

While Delos Santos expressed the pressing need to win over Foton and seal the top spot, Branislav believed the contrary, saying that winning over Petron is insignificant because the real battle is in the semifinals.

Unfortunately for Petron, luck didn’t bounced off their way.

And this loss would serve as black mark to their morale if and when they clash again – probably in the finals.

[quote]The game wasn’t really for us. We didn’t come up with a good performance. That’s life; you can’t deliver a good performance every game. It’s not everyday you’re at your peak where you can control the outcome. We’re okay in the first set, but we collapsed in the next three sets.[/quote]

Delos Santos added that their performance was like a déjà vu of their first match where Niemer worked like a one-woman orchestra.

[quote]We didn’t play as a team. We didn’t support Steph. I saw the fire in her eyes. She really wanted to win. That’s why she became stiff in the latter part of the game because she was trying her best to lift the team, but Foton was simply too powerful. Steph can only do so much.[/quote]

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Moving on

Delos Santos said whatever happened in the first two matches is now water under the bridge.

He said the setbacks supplied them with valuable lessons and the squad vowed to work hard in preparation for F2 Logistics – a team which they defeated a couple of times in dominant fashion.

The first time they crushed the Cargo Movers, Ara Galang and Hayley Spelman were not around. But in their second match, Niemer spewed fire from the service box, dropping nine aces to expose a can of worms in the Cargo Movers’ reception.

[quote]Our previous standing no longer matters. We’re all back to zero. That’s why I told them to accept our setback to Foton with an open heart because acceptance would make us tougher and would help is to move on. We’re now going back to the drawing board to prepare for the semis.[/quote]

Foton, on the other hand, would have a much lighter assignment as it battles the winner between RC Cola-Army and Generika in the semifinals.

If and when both the Tri-Activ Spikers and the Tornadoes’ prevail in their separate semifinal assignments, a rematch of that fabled finals battle is in the works.

From there, anything can happen. And Delos Santos knows that.

[quote]It will all boil down to who wants it more. Whoever has the bigger heart, the more consistent game and the hungrier team would be crowned as champion. We need to be more solid on both ends. We have to be at our best in case we face them (Foton) again, probably in the finals.[/quote]

And when that time comes, Petron would make sure that it has a tank full of gas.