The Chennai Spartans booked their spot in the final match of the RuPay Pro Volleyball League 2019 with a nail-biting 3-2 win over the Kochi Blue Spikers at the Jawaharlal Nehru Indoor Stadium in Chennai.
Ruslans Sorokins was the top performer for the Chennai Spartans with a top all-round display as he picked up 17 points while Naveen Raja Jacob was in fine touch on the offensive front with 13 points to his credit. Manu Joseph's 17 points stood out for the Blue Spikers.
The opening set kicked off on a balanced note as both teams picked up points to deny the opposition any advantage with the score reading 4-4. Rudy Verhoeff's attacking instincts brought about a lead for the Spartans as the home teams enjoyed a slender 8-7 lead into the first time-out.
Prabhagaran's spike right after the break brought about two points, courtesy of a Super Point as the Blue Spikers piled the pressure on the home side with a 11-9 lead. At 13-13, an error from Rudy Verhoeff allowed the Blue Spikers to take the lead, only to be nullified by Ruslans Sorokins' powerful spike. In the end, the experience from Sorokins was on display as he calmly lobbed the ball over the defenders that handed his team an important 16-14 win in the first set.
Ruslans Sorokins continued his rich vein of form into the second set as he erased Kochi's lead to level scores at 3-3. The Blue Spikers opted to use the Super Point early in the game which worked out for them as Manu Joseph's powerful spike gave the visitors a 7-5 lead.
At 9-6, the Spartans' call to play the Super Point went against them that gave the Blue Spikers a firm upper hand with an 11-6 lead. With momentum on the Blue Spikers side, the attackers found their bearings in the nick of time. Manu Joseph picked up eight points and the Blue Spikers registered a 15-9 set win.
The Blue Spikers started the third set with a renewed sense of confidence as they raced away to a 3-0 lead. Errors flowed from both sides as the Blue Spikers maintained their firm grip on the lead with a 7-3 advantage. The Spartans picked up two points from Sorokins' spike on the Super Point but in vain as the Blue Spikers maintained a three-point lead into the time-out.
Prabhagaran S floated around on the outside as his spikes proved too hot to handle for the Spartans' defenders which accelerated the Blue Spikers' domination in the set as a couple of points from David Lee towards the end helped his team clinch their second straight set courtesy of a 15-10 margin.
The fourth set followed a similar template to the first as the two teams fought tooth and nail in an approach to take the important lead. With neither team managing to gain a firm upper hand, Kapil Dev KJ came off the bench to produce a Super Serve on a Super Point as the Spartans claimed an impressive 9-6 lead.
With the Spartans' 10-7 lead in perspective, the Blue Spikers called for a Super Point but a massive block from Rudy Verhoeff denied Prabhagaran's spike as the lead swelled to 12-7. Two points from the Spartans sandwiched a David Lee spike as the home team decimated the Blue Spikers 15-8 and took the match all the way till the deciding set.
Having found some rhythm from the fourth set, the Spartans picked up a 2-1 lead in the decider until Rudy Verhoeff's solo block on Patuc's spike gave the hosts a two-point advantage. The Blue Spikers were forced to dive, stretch and give it their all but in vain as the hosts, backed by some vociferous home crowd support, cruised to an 8-4 lead.
However, the Kochi Blue Spikers did not lose hope as they produced some quality spikes and blocks to pick up four important points and reduced the lead to just a solitary point. David Lee's powerful spike equalized the scores on 9-9 and claimed two more points with a spike on the Super Point.
Yet, the lead was soon in the Spartans' grasp as Naveen Jacob's spike landed with a thud on the Blue Spikers' court that gave the hosts a 13-11 lead. A spike from Prabhagaran found a deflection off the Spartans' defenders before Akhin GS jumped high to land a power-packed spike under the nose of Mohan Ukkrapandian.
Naveen Jacob served for the match but the Blue Spikers were up to the task as Manu Joseph's spike lobbed off the defenders and dropped out of bounds. The Spartans wrapped up the match with the next point as Ruslans Sorokins fittingly picked up the final point of the match with a formidable spike.
Impact Player - Ruslans Sorokins (Chennai Spartans)
The 36-year-old Latvian was at his very best right through the contest as he brought out his experience on to the fore and threaded gaps within the Blue Spikers' defense unit with precision. Sorokins picked up 17 points from the match, including 15 spike points and one block and serve point each.
With a thrilling win in the second semifinal, the Chennai Spartans will now face off against the Calicut Heroes in the summit clash on the 22nd of February 2019.