The odds were not in favor of the Sta. Lucia Realtors coming into their PSL All Filipino Conference 2018 opening day game against the Smart Giga Hitters. MJ Phillips and Toni Rose Basas did not see action due to injury while Jhoana Maraguinot is not 100%. They were also going up the former Paymaya High Flyers rosters that finished second behind the Creamline Cool Smashers in the PVL Reinforced Conference. But you have to give credit on how they fought back by the end of the third set.
The Giga Hitters were at match point while the Lady Realtors were down five. Yet the squad of Coach George Pascua sparked a 4-0 run to narrow the gap at 24-23. Then Grethcel Soltones ended their hopes of a fourth set with a spike from Zone 4 that glanced through the Sta. Lucia blockers.
Other than that run and the 7-4 blocks advantage by the Lady Realtors, it was all Giga Hitters for this game. Soltones made quick work of the Sta. Lucia net defense due to the absence of able blockers in Phillips and Basas. That handicap allowed her to score 17 points in only 36 attempts. Jerrili Malabanan is second in attempts with 23. The narrow gap is an indication of how setter Jasmine Nabor distributed the ball to multiple spikers to keep their opponents chasing. Problems for Sta. Lucia compounded as Soltones was just on fire wherever she attacked.
Smart also connected on their service game with a 6-0 advantage in aces. They gave the Lady Realtors a hard time fielding the first ball which made it difficult for Rubie De Leon or Rebecca Rivera to make excellent sets. Giga Hitters Coach Roger Gorayeb must have devised a plan to target the unhealthy Maraguinot or Souzan Raslan in service and it produced good results.
Pantone setting the tone
Much of the Sta. Lucia firepower is sapped when Phillips and Basas were ruled out of the game. With Maraguinot still on her way to full recovery, that left them with Raslan, Jeanette Villareal, Michelle Laborte, and Pamela Lastimosa as their scoring options. The depleted roster gave way to an excellent display for Tatan Pantone. The 2018 PVL Reinforced Conference Best Libero made 14 out of the 64 total excellent digs the Giga Hitters had.
What’s fascinating is that she only needed 18 attempts to achieve that. She also shut down Sta. Lucia’s service game by making seven great receptions out of eight tries. That kind of efficiency prompted the Lady Realtors to divert their attack away from her which led to other Giga Hitters keeping the rally alive or the ball sailing out of the court. Pantone can give the likes of Dawn Macandili, Kath Arado, Jheck Dionela, or Denden Lazaro a run for their money.
No energy for Sta. Lucia
It seemed like the Lady Realtors were a step slow especially by the latter part of the first and second sets. They would have a great start but their intensity would just fizzle. Even Coach Pascua himself mentioned that their energy on court is not at par with what they show in practice. Rust is still there especially at the start of a conference. But they can’t afford to play like this in their succeeding games.
Diamond in the rough
How scary the Smart Giga Hitters will be if they turn Angelica Macabalitao into a blocking dynamo? It was obvious that she was still getting a feel for the game when Coach Gorayeb fielded her in the third set. She missed opportunities for quick attacks from the middle and is lost in formation at times. The physical traits, especially the height, are already there. We will see her shine if Coach Gorayeb can polish her into a gem.