The second semifinal of the inaugural edition of the RuPay Pro Volleyball League 2019 witnessed the Kochi Blue Spikers take on Chennai Spartans at the Jawaharlal Nehru Indoor Stadium in Chennai, Tamil Nadu.
Chennai Spartans produced a strong performance to turn a 1-2 set deficit in the match and defeat the Kochi Blue Spikers 3-2 in five sets (16-14, 9-15, 10-15, 15-8, 15-13) to enter the final and set up the title clash with Calicut Heroes on Friday, February 22, 2019.
Spartans' Ruslans Sorokins was the top scorer on the court with a haul of 17 points and was ably supported by his teammates, Naveen Raja Jacob (13 points) and Rudy Verhoeff (11 points). Kochi's Manu Joseph also managed 17 points but his efforts went in vain. David Lee (12 points) and Prabhagaran (11 points) were the other Kochi players with double-digit scores.
The two sides began the first set on a close note keeping on each other's heels with points in tandem from both ends. Prabhagaran started things off for the Spikers but Akhin GS and Naveen Raja Jacob took the home side of Chennai Spartans into the early lead. Chennai's foreign players, Rudy Verhoeff and Ruslans Sorokins were in top form, scoring spikes from the outside positions. Kochi Blue Spikers stayed close on the scoreboard, courtesy a few errors from the Chennai players. At the end of the technical timeout, Chennai Spartans held a slender lead of 8-7 over their counterparts from Kerala.
Kochi came out of the timeout with a successful Super Point as Prabhagaran landed a strong angled spike to take the lead in the set. Kochi was two points ahead at 11-9 when Chennai called the Super Point and Hariharan set the ball up for a kill by Rudy Verhoeff to level things on the scoreboard. Things went right down to the wire as the two teams stood tied at 14-14. Sorokins proved to be the key man for the Spartans, scoring three consecutive points to win the first set for Chennai at 16-14 and take a 1-0 lead in the match.
The second set began on a similar note as the first with the two sides scrambling for points from the get-go. Manu Joseph (Kochi) and Ruslans Sorokins (Chennai) traded spikes to keep it close at 4-4 in the early exchanges. Manu Joseph scored a spike on a Super Point to gain the lead for the Blue Spikers and Prabhagaran then added another point to head into the timeout with an 8-5 lead.
Manu Joseph landed another spike after the restart and an error from Naveen Raja Jacob cost the Super Point for Chennai allowing Kochi Blue Spikers to take a commanding 11-6 lead. Andrej Patuc put Kochi on the brink with an angled spike from the outside but Rudy Verhoeff pulled back a point for the Spartans. Mujeeb landed the crucial spike to close out the second set at 15-9 and levelled things up in the match at one set apiece.
The Kochi-based side started off things bright in the third set, running into a 3-0 lead with strong play from the skipper Mohan Ukkrapandian who won a serve point and set up a spike for Prabhagaran. David Lee then produced a stellar block off Rudy Verhoeff's spike to keep the Kochi side in the driver's seat with a 5-1 advantage. A few errors from the Blue Spikers ensued which allowed Chennai to cut the lead down to three points. A successful Super Point conversion from Ruslans Sorokins saw the Chennai side trail 5-7 but Kochi maintained their lead and went into the timeout at 8-5.
The skippers of both the sides were in action after the timeout. While Chennai's Shelton Moses committed an error on his spike, Kochi's Mohan Ukkrapandian fared better as he landed a sneaky spike from the setter position to gain a comfortable 10-5 lead for his side. David Lee produced two crucial spikes from the middle position to get the set point for the Blue Spikers at 14-9. Naveen Raja Jacob pulled one point back but committed an error with his serve to hand the second set to Kochi Blue Spikers at 15-10.
Prabhagaran and Lee started things off brightly for the Blue Spikers but a few errors followed which allowed Chennai Spartans to keep a check on the scoreboard. However, Manu Joseph chimed in with a couple of strong spikes to keep the lead for the Kochi side. The two sides produced a string of intense rallies as Chennai Spartans kept the fight alive in the match. Kochi called for a Super Point and the umpires ruled Kapil Dev's serve out of bounds but Chennai called the review and had the call overturned to lead 9-6 at the technical timeout.
Chennai maintained the momentum after the timeout with Ruslans Sorokins landing a defence-splitting spike from the middle. Rudy Verhoeff followed it up with a successful block on a Super Point, taking his side into a 12-7 lead. David Lee pulled back one point for the Kochi Blue Spikers but Naveen and Rudy got the Spartans to the set point at 14-8. Chennai stayed in the match and closed out the set at 15-8 to make it 2-2 and take the match to the fifth and final set.
The final set of the match saw the Chennai Spartans take an early 3-1 lead after a couple of spikes from Akhin and a block from Verhoeff. Errors from Naveen allowed the Kochi side to make it 4-4 in the set. Sorokins was on fire producing three points including a great block to reclaim the lead at 6-4. He was in action again landing a spike to take his side into the technical timeout with an 8-4 lead.
Kochi capitalized on errors from the Chennai side to cut the lead down and were on level terms within no time with points from David Lee and Prabhagaran. Lee brought his A-game for the Blue Spikers landing a scorching spike on the Super Point to take the lead for the first time in the set. Chennai struck back with a Super Point of their own as Naveen scored a spike from the left outside hitting position.
Prabhagaran forced an error from the Chennai blockers with a spike but Akhin scored on the next play to get the match point for the Spartans at 14-12. Manu saved one match point with a spike but it was Chennai who got the last laugh as Sorokins scored with his spike to win it at 15-13. Kochi Blue Spikers had called for a review of the decision as a last gasp measure but the decision was retained and Chennai won the match 3-2.
Impact Player - Ruslans Sorokins
Ruslans Sorokins proved to be the match-winner for the Chennai Spartans team with his timely spike points throughout the five sets. He finished with a tally of 17 points, including 15 spike points which also included the final point of the match.