January 25, 2015 - Wellington, FL - Two points made all the difference Sunday in the finals of both the Joe Barry Cup and the Bobby Barry Cup at the International Polo Club Palm Beach in Wellington, Florida. In the featured match on Engel & Völkers field, Orchard Hill lit the afterburners in the last two chukkers, snatching the lead from Villa del Lago to win 15-13. In the Bobby Barry Finals, Audi maintained its lead at the end of each chukker, winning 12-10.
Villa Del Lago Orchard Hill
Jim Zenni A Steve Van Andel A
Agustin Obregon 5 Lucas Criado 8
Polito Pieres 9 Facundo Pieres 10
Julian de Lusarreta 6 Remy Muller 2
The game started and ended as a Pieres fiesta, not surprising given that Facundo Pieres is a member of the exclusive club of about 15 players worldwide rated at 10 goals. Polito Pieres, a 9-goaler who is rated at 10 in Argentina, showed Sunday why he is considered to be on the fast track to join the club.
"Polito is amazing, and he has a really good team," said Facundo. "The thing is, if you start focusing too much on him (on the field), then his team will start making the difference."
Indeed, that played out more than once on Sunday. After a Facundo goal kicked off the first chukker, Villa del Lago came together on the very next play. Keeping the ball on the end of his mallet in classic Facundo-style, he moved it downfield from the center, looking every few seconds over his shoulder, eyes on Polito, who was determined to take control (and did). Polito snatched the ball and kept it moving, avoiding a hook. Lucas Criado, a solid 8-goaler who played a very tight game in tandem with Facundo, took the ball right back for Orchard Hill.
Polito had had enough, and it was only the first chukker. In a departure from his trademark cat-and-mouse routine - in which he plays the first few chukkers in a deceptively casual manner, toying with his opponents until he suddenly turns into an antagonized tiger - Polito's fangs came out early. Out of nowhere he appeared in the mix, clawing the ball away from Criado. Just when you expected Polito to break for goal, he made a stealth move (hence his moniker, "the magician").
About 45 yards out he handed the ball off to de Lusurreta. De Lusarreta held onto it for dear life in heavy traffic, looking left and right as he made a successful run for the goal line, with Facundo never far away. The mix of players was so thick that unless you had x-ray vision (or a really good pair of binoculars), you would have sworn that Facundo had made the goal. He and de Lusarreta had their radar honed in on each other; no matter how far apart they were on the field, they kept finding each other at exactly the right moment.
From there the cousins went nonstop mano a mano until the horn sounded at the end of the game. Still in the fist chukker, Facundo tried to lay a hook on Polito, losing his mallet in the process. The result was a penalty #2, and Polito took the free hit two yards out, bringing the score to 2-1 for Villa del Lago. Facundo polished off the chukker with a goal, tying the game at 2-2.
The rest of the game followed suit, sometimes almost seeming like a clip from the film "Groundhog Day." But there was certainly nothing ho-hum about this flick. It was a continual dazzling display of polo wizardry that had most of the crowd on its feet, as if they were at a rock concert. (Word must have gotten out about the verve; even at halftime there was still a line of cars pouring into IPC.)
One of the most astounding plays came in the second chukker. Facundo jumped on a loose ball and made a run for it at about 60 yards out, flying past Polito before he could intercept (which he was dead-bang determined to do). In pretzel-like form at 25 miles an hour, Facundo reached over his pony's neck and under the nose for a nearside shot that went between the goalposts like a missile.
The game continually took on intensity, with Orchard Hill gunning for Polito. In one play on his way to score, he was bumped in quick succession by Remy Mueller, then Criado, then Facundo.
The game was briefly tied until a Facundo goal ended the first half with Orchard Hill leading 7-6. Early in the fourth chukker the momentum shifted to Villa del Lago, with the team picking up two quick points, one of them on a nice cutshot by Steve Van Andel. The fifth chukker opened with Villa del Lago leading 10-8, but that was the end of its run.
Facundo came out guns ablazing , smacking in four goals. Orchard Hill prevailed, with the final chukker beginning 13-11 and ending 15-13.
All in all it was quite a respectable showing for Villa del Lago. A relatively new team that started competing only two years ago, this was its second consecutive finals match of the season. Three weeks ago Villa del Lago made it to the finals of the Herbie Pennell Cup at IPC, losing to Casablanca by just two points.
Villa del Lago and Audi actually had several things in common: Both teams came into the Joe Barry finals undefeated; they won the semis by one point, and each had one of the two top scorers of the tournament in its lineup. (On top of that, Polito and Facundo together accounted for 21 of the total 28 goals Sunday).
Facundo was honored twice at the awards ceremony, as MVP and for having the best-playing pony, Shelty. (Facundo is an all-out animal lover. His dog was literally the first to congratulate him, leaping into his lap almost before he had settled into his chair to take off his boots after the game.)
"Right now I'm very happy," he said. "It was a very difficult game because the other team has really good players. It was a good tournament, and we won, so that's perfect."
Orchard Hill patron Steve Van Andel agreed. "The team played great. I think we had some really good defensive plays that gave us a chance to turn the ball around and go through the toughest team."
His thoughts about the cutshot he scored on in the fourth chukker? He laughed, saying, "It was only, 'Don't miss, don't miss!'
Audi Takes Lechuza Caracas For a Ride, Winning 12-10 in Bobby Barry Memorial Cup Final
Audi came to the field to win today in the Bobby Barry Memorial Cup Final, defeating Lechuza Caracas 12-10. Nic Roldan was the Most Valuable Player and Juan Martin Nero's mount Somnambula was voted Best Playing Pony.
Audi Lechuza Caracas
Marc Ganzi A Luis Alfonso de Borbon 1
Lucas Lalor 5 Marcos Alberdi 3
Nic Roldan 8 Juan Martin Nero 10
Freddie Mannix 6 Tomas Goti 6
The match started out with a penalty call on each team, and after those attempts both went wide, Marc Ganzi scored the first goal off of a pass from Freddie Mannix. Shortly after that, Tomas Goti, playing for Martin Espain, converted a penalty to even the score out 1-1. Nic Roldan answered with a penalty conversion of his own to draw ahead of Lechuza Caracas 2-1 at the end of the first chukker.
Goti again took charge in the second chukker, scoring in heavy traffic. Roldan converted another penalty to make the score 3-2 in favor of Audi. Mannix and Roldan teamed up on the next play, displaying a stunning passing game that resulted in a goal by Mannix. Roldan scored a penalty conversion with a solid shot from the 60 yard line, making the score 5-2 at the end of chukker two.
Juan Martin Nero powered up in the third chukker, making a drive from end-to-end and scoring for Lechuza Caracas. Mannix scored again for Audi, solidifying the team's lead in the first half 6-3. Roldan, under strong pressure from Luis Alfonso de Borbon, scored the final goal of the first half, ending the chukker 7-3 in favor of Audi.
Nero gained steam in the fourth chukker, scoring despite an attempted block by Mannix. A penalty conversion by Nero assisted Lechuza Caracas in their comeback. Nero scored again with a ball bouncing off of the block by Roldan neatly into the goal mouth, making the score 7-5. Goti scored on a run downfield, bringing Lechuza Caracas within one goal of Audi. Roldan converted a vital penalty shot for Audi, followed up by a goal by Mannix to gain some distance and end the fourth chukker 9-6.
Nero kicked off the fifth chukker with a penalty conversion. Marcos Alberdi scored a goal off of a breakaway to bring Lechuza Caracas within striking distance. Lucas Lalor made an incredible pass to Roldan, who scored in the last second of the fifth chukker to make the score 10-8.
Alberdi scored a goal from a pass from Goti, starting the sixth chukker in a tight race to determine the victors. Roldan continued his stellar performance to convert again, to make the score 11-9. In the next play, Roldan sent an accurate pass to Ganzi who scored drawing Audi clear and away from Lechuza Caracas 12-9. The final goal of the game was made by Nero, but it was Audi's day, victorious 12-10.
Most Valuable Player Nic Roldan credits the strong team effort put in by his teammates for the win.
"Mark played solid up front," said Roldan. "Lucas was a hustler and opened up a lot of space for us. Freddie was solid in the back, and we were lucky to still have him in the game after his injury, but he mounted up and was good."
Patron Marc Ganzi felt that the team demonstrated Audi's true style of play.
"Nic played amazing today," Ganzi said. "When he's calm and has time and releases the ball, it makes all of us better. Today was one of those great days when he had a lot of time and space to distribute. With all four players scoring goals today, that's what we want. That's been Audi's style of playing polo for years, when all four guys are contributing and Nic is distributing."
The next 20-goal tournament at IPC, the 2015 Ylvisaker Cup, starts Saturday with three matches: FlexJet vs. Valiente, Lechuza vs. Gateway Merchants, and Coca-Cola vs. Tonkawa.