January 19, 2015 - Wellington, FL - Three matches kept the fields hopping Sunday at the International Polo Club Palm Beach in Wellington, Florida, as the Joe Barry Tournament moved into its third week. Villa del Lago continued its winning streak, beating Lechuza Caracas 15-10 and ensuring itself a place in the semifinals. Enigma defeated Coca-cola in a tightly contested 14-13 match, and Merchant Hub took FlexJet 11-8.
FlexJet Merchant Hub
Melissa Ganzi A Marianito Obregon 7
Juan Bollini 5 Facundo Obregon 6
Miguel Astrada 9 Luis Escobar 6
Guille Aguero 6 Scott Swerdlin A
In the featured match on Engels & Volkers Field, Merchant Hub took a stalled game (tied at the end of both the second and third chukkers) and kicked the logjam loose early in the fourth chukker. Merchant Hub grabbed mane and rode a runaway horse across the finish line, winning 11-8 win over FlexJet.
It was a huge tide change for Merchant Hub, which had lost its three previous games. A significant factor Sunday lay in some strategic changes both teams made to their lineups. FlexJet's Juan Bollini (usually #2) and Guille Aguero (normally #4) swapped positions, with Melissa Ganzi (#1) and Miguel Astrada (#3) staying put.
Meanwhile, Merchant Hub played a shell game of its own, leaving only Facundo Obregon in his normal position (#2). His brother, Marianito Obregon, who generally plays #3, stepped into the #1 slot, which is usually held by Scott Swerdlin. Swerdlin played #4, and Luis Escobar moved from #4 to #3. (If it makes you dizzy just thinking about it, you'd have had vertigo trying to keep track of the way it played out on the field.)
The first chukker gave not even an inkling of what was to come. FlexJet came out swinging, slapping in two goals; Merchant Hub did not score. (The scoreboard showed 2-1 at the end of the first chukker because Merchant Hill's team handicap of 19 had earned it an automatic point on the board at the start of the game, putting it on even keel with 20-goal FlexJet.)
Merchant Hub made its intentions known right out of the gate in the second chukker. Escobar had a clear shot down the field that found its way to a pair of Obregons in motion. The brothers kept the ball going all the way down the field, but it was just about impossible to see through the pack who had made the goal. As it turned out, Facundo Obregon's shot morphed into a "pony goal" - the ball deflected off a hoof and ricocheted across the goal line.
Facundo followed that up pronto with another goal (without an equine assist). A chain reaction started with Marianito Obregon riding Aguero off the ball and sending it to Facundo, who propelled it downfield. With Aguero still challenging, Escobar swooped in and angled the ball toward goal. Facundo was there - right time, right place, but no coincidence - to pick it up and score. Astrada, who had scored in the first chukker, added another goal, tying the game at 3-all at the end of the second chukker.
Less than a minute into the third chukker, Escobar scored with Aguero nipping at his heels. Astrada and Bollini each scored, but Marianito Obregon had the final word at the end of the first half, tying the game at 5-all. Merchant Hub took a one-point lead in the fourth chukker on a great heads-up play by Marianito and Escobar. Under attack by Astrada, Marianito shuttled the ball over to Escobar in the front, who sent it sailing through the goalposts.
Then it was Marianito's turn to score with an assist from Escobar. In a very technical and critically timed play, Escobar, who was being defended, had to wait for the right opportunity to pass the ball. Marianito took the ball forward and unloaded it downfield from atop a racehorse. Bollini moved in to challenge, but Marianito had the final say, bringing Merchant Hub to a 7-5 lead at the end of the fourth chukker, in which FlexJet was scoreless.
The Obregons turned the fifth chukker into their own personal scorefest, with Marianito scoring once and Facundo twice, all from the field. Astrada made two goals for FlexJet. Going into the final chukker, Merchant Hub's lead had widened to three points (10-7). Astrada scored on a penalty, and with less than a minute-and-a-half on the clock Escobar whacked in a long drive from the field, bringing the final score to 11-8 for Merchant Hub.
Marianito said he "felt much better about this game. The horses were (going) with better rhythm, and we started getting our mechanism, started working as a team."
Escobar agreed. "We felt good. We have been feeling good in the games. We just needed to make sure we didn't make mistakes," he said. "We knew the outcome was going to be good (today) because it felt good from the beginning. In the second half we changed a little bit. I was a little bit more offensive, and I think that made a big difference."
In the awards ceremony, Facundo Obregon was named MVP and the horse Bollini rode in the fifth chukker was named best playing pony. True to his name, Oro ("gold") is one of those unusual geldings who has the gusto for polo. Bollini described him as "very sweet," adding, "He always gets nervous before the game starts, but once he's in play, he loves it."
Enigma Pours Over Coca-cola, 14-13
Gillian Johnston 2 Jerome Wirth 1
Sugar Erskine 6 Jeff Hall 7
Julio Arellano 8 Matias MacDonough 7
Mason Wroe 4 Carlucho Arellano 5
Coca-cola enjoyed an early lead, with patron Gillian Johnston and Julio Arellano making the first goals of the game, both from the field. Enigma didn't score in the first chukker but made up for it soon enough. It scored three goals in the second chukker, which had started off a bit sticky, with one whistle after another. But then the game opened up. In a picture-perfect setup, Matias MacDonough hit a neck shot, which was picked up from the pack by Hall on the attack. In a beautiful pass from the side, Hall handed the ball off to Jerome Wirth, who, as he so often is, was right where he needed to be. With two controlled taps, he put it in.
Eight-goaler Julio Arellano, Coca-cola's highest-rated player, started pouring on the pressure. He scored on a penalty conversion and then proceeded to pester the Hall/MacDonough machine as best and as often as he could. But Hall and MacDonough, invincible 7-goalers working in tandem, smoked him out every time. Matias passed the ball to Hall, who took control about 80 yards out and carried the ball down the field to score. Hall did it again in the next play, going wide to score on a smooth cutshot to goal. Coca-cola rallied, with Johnston passing to Wroe. He burned through three Enigma defenders (who were all over him) to score. The second chukker ended 4-3 for Coca-cola.
In his second of two penalty goals during the third chukker - while fighting a blustery crosswind - Julio Arellano kept the ball along the ground, sneaking it past the Enigma defenders to score. The rest of the chukker, however, was a MacDonough extravaganza. He had already taken control of the ball just 30 seconds into the chukker, whacking it over to Wirth, who scored for Enigma. Then he made a pair of back-to-back goals. Straight out of a throw-in, MacDonough took the ball on a breakaway and scored, all the while Arellano giving serious chase. Then MacDonough grabbed the ball from the middle and pulled out ahead all by himself to score. In the final minute of the first half, he made it a three-peat, bringing the score to 7-6 in favor of Enigma.
Another Arellano (Carlucho) turned a lot of heads in the fourth chukker, scoring three goals for Enigma. After the game he said, "It was a very fun game for me to play because it was against my brother and a team that I respect very much. For me it was a huge effort to get everything ready for today's game."
Hall added another goal to the tally, and even with two more goals by Coca-cola, Enigma was three points ahead going into the fifth chukker. Coca-cola tightened the gap to one point, where it remained for the rest of the game, which ended 14-13 for Enigma.
The Enigma players paid homage to Coca-cola. Said Wirth: "That was an amazing team. I'm always amazed playing against Coca-cola. Well done to them, and well done to us."
MacDonough said Enigma was "very happy," calling Coca-cola "a very solid team." He added, "They're always tough. We knew even when they didn't have any chances, this is a team that tries to go forward when they get on the field. They put together a really solid game."
Hall concurred. "That's a tough team. They're out of the tournament now, but they always play to win, whether they're in or out. They're always tough, so we knew we were going to have a tough game. We managed to keep it together the whole game. So now we've got another one under our belt, and we're getting better and better. We know the strengths and weaknesses of our team, and that's all good."
Villa del Lago Secures a Spot in Semifinals
Villa del Lago Lechuza Caracas
Jim Zenni A Peke Gonzalez 1
Augustin Obregon 5 Marcos Alberdi 3
Polito Pieres 9 Juan Martin Nero 10
Julian de Lusarreta 6 Martin Espain 6
Villa del Lago secured its place in the semi-finals, beating Lechuza Caracas 15-10. Marcos Alberdi scored the first goal of the match, outrunning Jim Zenni to the goal line and putting one on the board for Lechuza Caracas. Polito Pieres scored the first goal for Villa del Lago with a lofted shot for a penalty conversion.
Peke Gonzalez, who was substituting for Lechuza Caracas' patron Victor Vargas, scored off the bowl-in, once again outrunning Zenni. In what was undoubtedly the play of the game, Pieres "picked the pocket," as the announcer called it, of Martin Espain from the knock-in within yards of Lechuza Caracas' goal line to score. After much play back and forth, Juan Martin Nero scored in heavy traffic with one second left on the clock to end the first chukker 3-2 in favor of Lechuza Caracas.
Augustin Obregon attempted a goal, only to be backed out by Alberdi in a stellar defensive play. Juan Martin Nero scored in the only goal of the second chukker to make the score 4-2. Pieres made a penalty conversion for another score for Villa del Lago. Then an intense ride-off between Obregon and Nero resulted in a penalty in favor of Lechuza Caracas. Nero drove the ball in and passed it to Gonzalez to make the score 5-3. Nero made back-to-back goals by scoring again after the ball bounced off Gonzalez's head in heavy traffic. Pieres attempted a third penalty conversion but was blocked, and the ball went wide. Alberdi rounded out the third chukker with another goal to end the chukker 7-3.
The fourth chukker opened with an exciting ride-off between Nero and Pieres that resulted in a goal for Villa del Lago. Nero attempted a penalty conversion, but the shot went wide. In a stunning display of ball-handling ability, Pieres scored with a neck shot from the boards. Pieres then took off on a breakaway pass from Julian de Lusarreta to score again. Pieres tied the score 7-7 when he followed up with a goal, while fighting off Alberdi on the goal line. Nero responded with a near side neck shot through the goal mouth for Lechuza Caracas. In a run down the field, Obregon scored the last goal of the chukker to end the fourth chukker tied at 8-8.
Villa del Lago came on strong in the fifth chukker. Pieres defeated Espain to get a pass off to Obregon, taking the lead 9-9. Gonzalez shot one through to tie the game once more. Pieres promptly made one of his signature neck shots and Villa del Lago took the lead. Obregon then took the ball coast-to-coast and scored again. Gonzalez beat de Lusarreta to the goal line to drive one in for Lucheza Caracas, making it 10-12. In the sixth chukker, Villa del Lago continued its hot streak. Pieres lofted an incredible shot from 100-odd yards to score. Obregon drove another goal in to gain another point for Villa del Lago. De Lusarreta scored the final goal of the match, ending the game 15-10 and locking in his team's place in the semi-finals.
When asked about how his team played, Obregon credited Pieres for bringing them back from a deficit in the first half. "It was kind of hard at the beginning, but it helped that in the second half Polito was on fire," Obregon said. "All the goals we couldn't make in the first half, we made in the second half."