Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand, June 6, 2018 - A spectacular performance from Hande Baladin sparked Turkey to a hard-fought victory over a gallant Thailand in the FIVB Volleyball Nations League on Wednesday.
Coming off the bench, the wing spiker gave Turkey a lift as they claimed a 3-1 (25-20, 30-28, 18-25, 25-19) win but were pushed to the limit by the brave hosts.
Even though she struggled with her serve, Baladin finished with a game-high 17 points, including 16 spikes, and she was supported by inspirational captain Eda Erdem Dundar (15 points), while Zehra Gunes was formidable at the net.
Thailand have lost all five matches at home but provided plenty of cheer for their ardent fans with Chatchu-On Moksri starring with 16 points and captain Pleumjit Thinkaow led from the front with 15 points.
Fending off a brave challenge, Turkey overcame a third set wobble as their innate firepower eventually proved too much for Thailand, who have won just twice in the VNL to sit 14th on the overall rankings.
With two four-set wins in the fourth phase, Turkey move to 8-3 and are in position to reach the final round.
Turkey made a spectacular start through the high-flying Boz who hammered home an emphatic kill to immediately quiet the home crowd. With Gunes serving with menace, Turkey stormed to an early lead with the first four points as they looked a class above their opponents who are ranked 16th in the world.
Thailand tried gamely as evidenced by a desperate dive from Moksri into the bench but Erdem's deft touch at the net ensured Turkey enjoyed a healthy 8-2 edge at the first technical timeout. In an effort to take the crowd out of the contest early, Turkey looked sharp and on their game but Thailand showcased tenaciousness to cut into the deficit.
With a superior height advantage, Turkey were hard to pass at the net but Thailand's quickness and sets around the court ensured they were more than competitive as the standard lifted to thrill the near capacity crowd. Severely challenged, Baladin provided a spark off the bench with a couple of thunderous kills and Turkey, who never trailed, rediscovered their groove to eventually close out the first set in 24 minutes.
Turkey continued to dictate in the second set with cunning serving from Gunes troubling Thailand who once again were in an early hole. Just like the first set, Thailand clawed back into the contest to level the scores but Erdem was proving the difference with an imposing spike followed by consecutive unreturnable serves to restore Turkey's dominance.
However, Turkey were gifting points through several service errors ensuring the match remained competitive but Thailand could not string together points. A terrific stuff block from Pleumjit reduced the margin to just one point as scores see-sawed during a tense passage of play but, frustratingly for their fans, Thailand could not nudge ahead.
Turkey's formidable size at the net resisted Thailand's artillery but the plucky hosts finally broke through after winning a heart stopping rally to lead 20-19 - their first advantage of the match.
Thailand were on the brink of claiming the set until a thunderous spike from Gunes levelled scores at 24 apiece and Baladin did likewise moments later to save another set point. However, Thailand would not be denied and saved three set points but Turkey eventually pulled it out on the fourth attempt much to the disbelief of the rabid crowd.
In a bid to finish off the match in straight sets, Turkey - in trademark fashion - started the third set with gusto to skip out to a quick three-point lead. As had become a trend, Thailand sparked back into life rattling off three straight points punctuated by a booming spike from Pleumjit as the hosts took an 8-7 edge at the first technical timeout.
For the first time Thailand led by more than one point when a leaping Pleumjit hammered a spike to give her side an 11-9 edge. In a mirror image of the second stanza, points were see-sawed but Turkey's errant serves were proving costly and Thailand made them pay to skip out to a 17-13 lead.
Suddenly, Turkey were unable to string together points as their muscling blows were being impressively rebuffed, most notably by setter Pornpun Guedpard. Thailand deservedly wrapped up the stanza through a terrific block from Malika Kanthong as spectators jumped out of their seats.
Shrugging off their third set stumble, Turkey regrouped to take a quick 6-1 lead as they shook off their waywardness that marked the previous stanza. Sticking with the script, Thailand mounted their customary comeback with four straight points to take a 10-9 as fans were starting to believe in their dogged team.
Amid a swirl of anticipation, Turkey dug deep and through clutch serving from Gunes they closed in on a hard-fought triumph. With two of their defeats having gone the distance, Turkey were relieved to wrap it up when a Gunes block sealed the deal.
Turkey play Korea on Thursday, while Thailand faces rejuvenated Japan to close out the fourth phase.