Immediately after winning a championship, Rald Ricafort packed his bags and switched to a different team. He was sold, he said, on the youth movement of PLDT and decided to pitch camp there.
He has circled back to his former team again, this time as its semifinal opponent.
“At least, we already got to play them before,” Ricafort said on Thursday. “It was a good fight and we will review that game again.”
The stakes will be higher this time.
After sealing the No. 3 seed with a 21-25, 25-23, 25-23, 25-16 victory over Choco Mucho in the Premier Volleyball League All-Filipino Conference at PhilSports Arena, the High Speed Hitters will brace for a semifinal series against Petro Gazz.
The best-of-three semifinals get going on Saturday with top seed Creamline battling rival F2 Logistics in the other pairing.
Need to improve
The High Speed Hitters own a five-set elimination round win over the Angels, who won the Reinforced Conference under Ricafort to end last season, but Thursday’s showdown against the Flying Titans exposed the need to improve their performance before the hunt for Finals berths gets going.
“[W]e must work harder and try to keep our composure,” said Mean Mendrez, who led PLDT with 21 points.
The High Speed Hitters also need to cut down on the same mistakes that had them bogged down in the first set against a squad that had nothing to fight for anymore.
“[The first set] was a lesson for us,” Ricafort said. “We have to learn from those kinds of mistakes. If we can control the game, we have to control it because it’s hard to play against the team which no longer feels pressure.”
Choco Mucho gamely took the fight to PLDT as the Titans kept things close in the third set despite trailing by six midway there. An attack by Isa Molde tied the count at 23 before PLDT star Mika Reyes came through with a running attack and a quick hit to close out the set.
“We reminded ourselves to just score that one point first because we didn’t want to think that we were going to lose that set,” Reyes said. “I think those reminders we gave ourselves helped push us to get that one point.”
The High Speed Hitters ran away with the fourth set to claim a 6-2 (win-loss) card and take the third seed.
Mendrez finished with 18 attacks, two aces and a block, while Reyes unloaded 18 points built on 13 spikes, four blocks and an ace.
“We needed to finish strong, because [this game] would be the basis of our semis [seeding],” said Mendrez.
Veteran Rhea Dimaculangan paced PLDT with 25 excellent sets with Dell Palomata and Jovy Prado contributing 12 points each. Mich Morente added 10 points, including the game-winning attack that ended their two-hour and 21-minute match.
Libero Kat Arado protected the floor with 31 digs while Prado helped her out with 13 digs and 10 excellent receptions.
Choco Mucho missed the semifinals for the third straight tournament and won just two of its eight matches in coach Dante Alinsunurin’s first season for its worst franchise finish in the league.
Molde and Kat Tolentino led the Titans with 14 points each.
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