Leaning on inspired performances by national team sisters Jaja Santiago and Din-Din Santiago-Manabat, the third-seeded Foton Tornadoes Blue Energy defeated the sixth-ranked PLDT Home FIBR Power Hitters 16-25, 25-17, 25-17, 25-12 to advance to the semifinals of the 2019 Philippine Superliga All Filipino Conference (AFC) here at the Filoil Flying-V Centre in San Juan City.
"We struggled with our defense at the start, but when we started finding our groove in the second set, everything fell into place," said Foton mentor Aaron Velez after the match.
Marian Buitre-who took on injured Maika Ortiz's role as starting Middle Blocker-was adjudged MVP of the match.
The Tornadoes now await the winner of the quarterfinal clash between second-seeded F2 Logistics and seventh-ranked Sta. Lucia this Saturday. PLDT was shown the door after ending the preliminaries with two impressive victories over second ranked F2 Logistics and the Lifesavers and were deemed to have built sufficient momentum heading into the knockout phase of the competition.
The Power Hitters actually raced to a hot start behind the detonating duo of Grethcel Soltones and Jerrili Malabanan and exploited the struggles of Foton in their reception game.
PLDT head coach Roger Gorayeb started former Jose Rizal University (JRU) ace Shola Alvarez in lieu of regular opposite hitter Aiko Urdas, who was out due to swelling in her left knee. Alvarez proved to be the perfect complement to Soltones and Malabanan as her addtionial help on the defensive end gave the Power Hitters almost complete domination of the opening canto, 25-16.
The second set was a completely different story as former University of the East (UE) stalwart Shaya Adorador came off the bench and surprisingly led a floor defense uprising that saw the Tornadoes outhustle the sixth seeds, allowing the Santiago sisters to tear apart the PLDT defenses en route to a 25-17 triumph.
Going to a younger and more mobile squad, Gorayeb brought in 6'0" Czar Carandang in an effort to try and contain the Santiago sisters and surprise starter Marian Buitre. It proved to do very little to quell the already flowing Foton offense, however, and the Tornadoes pulled away after the second technical timeout, leading by as much as ten points, 23-13. Rookie Eya Laure checked in late in the set to the delight of the Foton supporters and was on the floor when the Tornadoes finally put the third set away, 25-17.
The Power Hitters never found their groove in the fourth set as Foton stayed aggressive and practically cruised to the finish line, 25-12 in fourth.
The 6'6" Santiago paced Foton with 20 points, including five blocks while Santiago-Manabat chipped in 15 markers and Buitre finished with twelve. Soltones led all scorers with 22 for PLDT, followed by Malabanan's 13 and 10 points from Alvarez.
Foton - Santiago 20, Santiago-Manabat 15, Buitre 12, Aganon 6, Adorador 4, Sy 2, Kasilag 1, Laure 1, Reyes (L), Perez 0.
PLDT - Soltones 22, Malabanan 13, Alvarez 10, Devanadera 4, Nabor 2, Singh 1, Sta. Rita 1, Carandang 1, Gata-Pantone (L), Eroa (L), Casugod 0, Cayuna 0, Latigay 0