A tournament high 29 points from Bethania de Peña De La Cruz couldn’t stop the Dominican Republic going down to three-time champions China 3-1 (23-25, 25-13, 25-19, 25-18) in the opening match of Round Two at the Hiroshima Sun Plaza on Tuesday.
Coming off an emotional high from a five-set thriller on Sunday against rivals Japan, China started slowly for the third time in four matches by conceding the first set against a side they have only lost once to in 14 previous encounters but eventually went on to repeat a similar victory in the World Grand Prix Preliminary Round with Hui Ruoqi (16), and Yang Junjing (14) and Wang Yimei (14) sharing the scoring.
The Dominicans stunned China by jumping out ahead early, driven by four De La Cruz drives to put them up four. But China’s Hui (coincidentally tied with De La Cruz in fourth place in tournament scoring after the first round play with 50 points) returned with four of her own to help tie the scores up at 15-15, on a run that saw them take six of seven points. China’s defence looked confused at times, miscommunicating on a number of occasions, and on a De La Cruz spike their hesitation resulted in Dominican set point. China showed some spirit fighting off three set points, but De La Cruz dropped her seventh point of the set behind the Chinese defence to close 25-23.
The second set started out even but with another injury scare as China’s Xu Yunli stepped on the foot on of Dominican captain Milagros Cabral de la Cruz during an attempted spike. Fortunately she was able to continue and moments later showed no ill effects planting an ace past the Dominicans en route to a 16-11 lead. Hui was fearless helping China to nine of the last 10 points to take the set comfortably at 25-13, at one point driving a rocket through three Dominican blockers despite her teammates warning that they were lining up against her.
China improved their block in the third set with Wang indicative of China's imporved defence when her effort sailed to the back of the court out of the desperate lunge of Dominican captain Cabral. Later China’s captain Wei posted blocks on attacking Rodriguez not once, but twice for scores, to extend to 12-7. She had perhaps the slickest point of the match dropping a no-look ball over the net after shaping to set to make it 20-15. China would close it easily from there (25-19, two sets to one) with aerial support from Xu Yunli and Wang on the wings.
While things didn’t look good to start the fourth, De La Cruz was still scoring up a storm. Unfortunately she didn’t have much help, facing a balanced Chinese attack led by Wang who helped China edge ahead 12-9. China’s captain would again show incredibly savvy up front, dropping a clever back tip over her head with her back to the net for a score. The 2003 champions would close it out 25-18.
While China’s captain Wei only scored five points, they were all crucial points up front - three of them on blocks - making her the Most Impressive Player award recepient.
Fourth is no good enough