Wellington, FL - In front of a packed house on Sunday at Grand Champions Polo Club, Casablanca won its third tournament of the fall season.Casablanca broke open a close game in the final chukker to defeat Palm Beach Equine/ELG, 14-11, in the eighth annual Pedro Morrison Memorial Cup final.
With the score tied at 10-10 after five chukkers, Casablanca (Grant Ganzi, Juancito Bollini, Mike Azzaro, Wes Finlayson) scored four goals and held off Palm Beach Equine/ELG (Avery Chapman, Guille Aguero, Tommy Biddle, Scott Swerdlin) with two great defensive stops on goal attempts in the final minutes.
Finlayson, 18, was named Most Valuable Player for his outstanding play on both ends of the field in the hotly-contested game. Zulu, an 8-year-old bay mare, was named Best Playing Pony.
"We made less mistakes than the other team and ended up playing better," Finlayson said. "Both teams played amazing."
For Ganzi, 15, and Bollini, 17, it was their second consecutive Pedro Morrison Memorial Cup victory. Last year the teenagers teamed with Kris Kampsen and Jason Crowder on KIG's winning team. It was also Bollini's fifth tournament victory (two other wins with different teams).
"It's really exciting," said Ganzi, a sophomore at St. Andrew's School. "I hoped we could do it, I knew we could do it. It's a great trophy to win. It's the best medium-goal trophy to win here at Grand Champions. To win it twice in a row is pretty remarkable. This year was so much more competitive."
Added Bollini, "It is amazing, it is a great feeling. Our team has become dominant. At first, we didn't know it was going to be this much fun. We have great chemistry."
Azzaro broke the tie at the 7:12 mark when he dribbled the ball in from 100 yards out off a penalty five for an 11-10 lead. Azzaro then got defensive saving a 60-yard goal attempt by Tommy Biddle.
Finlayson made it 12-10 driving downfield with three hits before scoring. Ganzi then scored his fourth goal of the game at the 2:45 mark for a 13-10 lead.
Palm Beach Equine/ELG tried to rally late in the game. Biddle scored on a penalty two to cut the lead to two goals (13-11) but Azzaro came back scoring on a penalty four to put the game out of reach.
Azzaro finished with a team-high five goals and Ganzi scored four goals. Finlayson had two and Bollini added one and two were by handicap.
For Palm Beach Equine/ELG, Biddle scored a game-high seven goals, Guille Aguero had three and Avery Chapman added one.
The maturation process continued for Casablanca's three young up-and-coming players. Their team captain and Hall of Famer couldn't have been happier.
"They played well, they played very disciplined today, it was a good game for them," Azzaro said. "We changed our style of play a little bit. Every time they would catch up, we would come back and take the lead. Grant was strong. Wesley made a couple really nice plays."
Azzaro held a team meeting before the game to make sure everyone was on the same page.
"He likes to teach on and outside the field and he likes to teach the youth," Bollini said. "It's amazing to listen to him. He knew what we needed to do. We talked about how we would play."
Said Finlayson, "Mike is such a great influence. He is a great player of the game. The best part about playing with Mike is that he is an amazing player and he can keep his head on straight. He is open-minded to mistakes. He wants to teach us as a team even though we're not as good as him. He wants to teach us how to play the game, how to make the right plays and how to work as a team which is key."
Chapman, who has played in the final three times against Casablanca, has been impressed with the young team since the fall season began.
"It's a well-balanced team," Chapman said. "We certainly didn't have a lack of try...a couple lucky bounces either way. They played very good offense and we played good defense but at the end of the day, they turned out to be the better team.
"The boys are playing great, they are great young men and Mike is a good captain," Chapman said. "And that's of course how handicaps go up, when you are playing great. I have lost to them in three finals. All I can say is that I am proud of my team because we are the only team getting to them each time. I can't complain. Our team played very well as a team. We just had some unlucky breaks. This was good polo, one of the best games I have seen at Grand Champions."
In the consolation final, Paladin (David Krantz, Juan Bollini, Piki Alberdi, Melissa Ganzi) led from start-to-finish to defeat Audi/Excalibur (Michael Donahue, Marc Ganzi, Carlitos Gracida, Nic Roldan), 8-5.
Alberdi led all scoring with five goals. Bollini, who was called for a technical foul in the fifth chukker, had two and Ganzi added one.
For Audi/Excalibur, Marc Ganzi scored three consecutive goals in the fourth and fifth chukkers including two on penalty shots to trail by only one (6-5), but Bollini and Alberdi goals put the game away. Nic Roldan added one goal for Audi/Excalibur which also picked up one goal on handicap.
The Pedro Morrison Memorial, featuring a seven-team field, was the sixth medium-goal tournament of the fall season which has proven to be the most competitive in Grand Champions' seven-year history. Other tournament winners were Paladin, Audi and Palm House.
Pedro Morrison, born in Spain and University of Miami alum, died Dec. 11, 2003 in Wellington at age 49. He was an avid polo player, patron of The Sympatico Polo team and helped develop Wellington into a thriving community. He was active in several local and area charities and businesses and touched countless lives. He remains an inspiration. His work on behalf of the YMCA of the Palm Beaches continues on through Polo with Pedro.
The tournament is played annually in honor of Morrison in a casual, laid-back and fun atmosphere. Members of the Morrison family along with friends, players and spectators were treated to great food from Cilantro's in a festive atmosphere.
This week the first of two 20-goal tournaments gets under way on Tuesday with the USPA 2013 Beluga North America Cup with the opening two games at Palm City Polo Club in Boca Raton.
Beluga (Misha Rodzianko, JJ Celis, Joey Casey, Luis Escobar) plays Piaget (Melissa Ganzi, Jeff Hall, Juan Bollini, Piki Alberdi) at 10 a.m. and ELG (Avery Chapman, Kris Kampsen, Guille Aguero, Carlucho Arellano) plays Psycho Bunny (Moritz Gaedeke, Hector Galindo, Sugar Erskine, Jeff Blake) at 3:30 p.m.
The Palm Restaurant Invitational, the final medium goal tournament of the season, is Friday and Sunday.
The other 20-goal tournament is the Nov.13-24 USPA National 20-Goal Championship.
During the 2012 fall season, Audi dominated the season winning back-to-back USPA North America Cup and USPA National 20-Goal Tournament titles with Marc Ganzi, Carlitos Gracida, Nic Roldan and Carlos Gracida.
GRAND CHAMPIONS FALL SCHEDULE
Nov. 5-9, USPA 2013 Beluga North America Cup
Nov. 8-10, Palm Restaurant Invitational
Nov. 13-24, The USPA National 20-Goal Championship
Nov. 30, International Cup, Team USA vs. Chile
GRAND CHAMPIONS POLO CLUB
WHERE: 13444 Southfields Road, on the corner of South Shore Boulevard and Lake Worth Road, Wellington, 561-644-5050.
INFORMATION: There are great field side views for tournament action at the home base of pro team Audi. Everyone is welcome to watch high and medium goal polo in a relaxed atmosphere during the spring and fall tournament season and other special events including the International Cup in November, Buzz Welker Memorial Junior Tournament in March, ProKidz Tournaments in the spring and fall, Women's Championship Tournament and Gay Polo League International Tournament, both in April.