Wellington, FL -Orchard Hill and Valiente secured spots in the 111th U.S. Open Polo Championship Final, winning their respective games Wednesday in the semifinals at the International Polo Club Palm Beach (IPC). Orchard Hill defeated Coca-Cola 12-8. In exciting overtime play, Valiente took Audi 11-10 in overtime on Engel & Völkers field.
Orchard Hill Coca-Cola
Steve Van Andel A Gillian Johnston 2
Ezequiel Ferrario 7 Pelon Stirling 10
Polito Pieres 9 Julio Arellano 8
Facundo Pieres 10 Sugar Erskine 6
A pair of Piereses pounced onto the field with the eye of the tiger, and even the power punch of Pelon Stirling and Julio Arellano couldn't take them down. If a Pieres didn't score the goal, he had a hand in it. The cousins controlled the game with cat-like cunning, scoring 10 of Orchard Hills' 12 goals. Facundo Pieres made his mallet defy the laws of physics, swinging with such force and at acute angles that it should have ended up looking like a pretzel. The universal word along the sidelines, which were packed to capacity on both sides of the field, was: "This is how 26-goal polo should be played." It was open, smooth-as-silk, rollicking polo from start to finish. One seasoned pro even went as far as to say it was the best game he had seen in 10 years.
Coca-Cola came out of the gate strong, with Sugar Erskine making the first goal. The Piereses promptly countered twice. The second chukker opened with a knock-in by Facundo Pieres, who followed up with a neckshot so perfectly calibrated that only Polito Pieres positioned to pick it up. His teammates kept a fired-up Erskine at bay while Polito Pieres dodged out of traffic and left a stunned pack of defenders in the dust. Ezequiel Ferrario took the pass and scored. Arellano got amped up in the second chukker and went on an extended scoring spree that stretched throughout the game. In typical Arellano form, he was deadly accurate with his penalty shots. All told, he matched Facundo Pieres' six total goals in the game, making three of them in the sixth chukker.
Orchard Hill held a tight lead in the first half, one point ahead of Coca-Cola at the end of the second and third chukkers. Facundo Pieres closed the second and opened the third with another display of his finely angled neckshots. One, made on a run from one end of the field to the other, shuttled through the air with such turbo that it knocked one of the goalposts down.
The second half opened 5-4 for Orchard Hill. Facundo Pieres fired another missile, this time on a penalty two, which made a loud splash after it whizzed through goal and took a dive into the canal. The fifth chukker was Polito Pieres all the way. He pulled off a hat trick with three consecutive goals. One of them, widely considered the play of the game, was a neckshot from 110 yards that went straight into goal. Orchard Hill closed the chukker with a commanding six-goal lead (11-5). Arellano's string of goals tightened the gap to four points, but time ran out before Coca-Cola could make more of a dent in Orchard Hills' dominance. The game ended 12-8 for Orchard Hill. Orchard Hill had previously defeated Coca-Cola just three days ago in the quarterfinals in a much tighter game, which ended 11-10.
"Coke played so well on Sunday and came out charging in this game, so it was tough the whole way through," said Steve Van Andel. "Then all of a sudden in the fifth, we had a chukker where everybody on the team had an 'on' chukker. We made our shots, we were defending right, and any time somebody got loose they had a chance to score. That's really what drew us ahead.'
Facundo Pieres pronounced the game "a lot of fun!" Then he laughed, acknowledging that it was no cakewalk. "We were playing well in the beginning of the game, but the goals weren't coming in. We were a bit unlucky because we missed a lot of goals, but we knew we had to keep on playing well because this is a strong team. We were only one goal up at halftime, so anything could happen."
But what matters, he said, were the final numbers on the scoreboard. "We all wanted to play this game, and this is where we wanted to end up: in the finals of the U.S. Open."
Valiente Takes The Birthday Cake Defeats Audi 11-10 in OT
Valiente defeated Audi 11-10 in overtime during the semifinals of the 111th U.S. Open Polo Championship at the International Polo Club Palm Beach.
Marc Ganzi 1 Bob Jornayvaz 2
Rodrigo Andrade 9 Guillermo Terrera 8
Gonzalito Pieres 9 Alejo Taranco 6
Fred Mannix 6 Adolfo Cambiaso 10
What birthday present do you get for the man who has everything? Well, how about a shot at the 111th U.S. Open Polo Championship? Valiente delivered a superb victory over Audi for team captain Adolfo Cambiaso's birthday. Cambiaso went straight to work in this game, immediately delivering an assist to Alejo Taranco, who drove in a goal at a dead run to put the first goal up on the board for Valiente.
Soon after, Audi chose to challenge the ball placement of a penalty called in their favor and won, awarding them a penalty three. Gonzalito Pieres made easy work of the conversion, tying up the score 1-1. Pieres quickly tallied up two more goals for Audi, making the score 3-1. Cambiaso rallied for Valiente by converting his own goal, ending the first chukker with a tight score of 3-2.
Audi came out guns blazing in the second chukker, starting off with a breakaway goal by Fred Mannix. After several minutes of play, yet another penalty conversion by Pieres put Audi in the lead 5-2. A series of wide goal attempts had Valiente snake-bit around the goal, and a team play by Pieres and Mannix resulting in a goal had Valiente fans wondering if a comeback was going to happen. Cambiaso, a sly fox who can never be counted out, made the comeback happen in a matter of minutes. Cambiaso took control of the ball out of the throw-in, driving in a goal that officials reviewed and deemed a goal. A penalty one awarded to Valiente and another goal by Cambiaso brought Valiente within one of Audi and the second chukker ended with a very different outlook for the rest of the game.
Both teams had trouble finding the high flag in the third chukker, playing very close contact polo punctuated by explosive runs down the field. Cambiaso managed to tie the score 6-6 before the end of the half, making it anyone's game. Pieres and Cambiaso went toe-to-toe throughout the fourth chukker, each of them scoring a goal and fighting to pull their teams ahead.
Audi drew first blood in the fifth chukker, with Pieres sinking a cut shot to break the tie 8-7. Cambiaso quickly responded by racking up two unanswered goals and taking the lead back with authority. Valiente kept Audi at bay at the end of the fifth chukker, with Guillermo Terrera blocking a penalty shot by Pieres.
The sixth chukker had some intense man-on-man play, and a determined Audi scored to tie the game 9-9. Cambiaso, the go-to man, converted a penalty three to take the lead back. In the final moments of regulation play, Pieres, a study in consistency, tied the game 10-10 to take the match into sudden death overtime. A penalty challenge was the deciding factor of the overtime chukker. A turning penalty against Audi had Valiente invoking their right to challenge, and after further review the call was overturned. In the next play, a penalty five was called in favor of Valiente. Audi made a significant effort to back the ball out of the danger zone, but a well-placed pass by Terrera sent Taranco down field to drive the winning goal in.
Taranco felt that it was Valiente's careful preparation for the game that sealed the deal. "We worked during the week to work out the strategy. We understood their game and that led to our victory," said Taranco. Patron Bob Jornayvaz agreed that having a solid strategy was integral to the team's success. "They're a running team. Their whole strategy is hit and run, and they do a really good job at it. We had to try to contain them, and they're a tough team to contain. Especially with Freddie [Mannix], who's just got those those big shots," said Jornayvaz. "He hits it a country mile. Trying to contain them was tough, so our whole game plan was trying to keep them from getting past mid field."
In the team tent, after the Valiente contingent sang the Spanish version of "Happy Birthday" to him, Cambiaso said he found the way the game played out "strange." He paused, looking at the ground as if searching for an explanation. "We were down 6-2 and I didn't feel like we should be, and then we came back and the game was tied 6-6."
The 111th U.S. Open Polo Championship Final between Orchard Hill and Valiente takes place at 3 p.m. Sunday, April 19, on Engel & Völkers field at IPC.
All photos by Liz Lamont Images
International Polo Club Palm Beach Fast Facts:
What: Created by players for players, the International Polo Club Palm Beach was born out of the dream to build a facility to showcase the incredible skills of the ponies and players that dominate the sport.
Members and guests enjoy panoramic views of the action from field side box seats or lawn and terrace seating. Sponsors and fans convene at The Winners Circle to congratulate the players during the awards presentation following the games.
Gourmet brunches, après polo celebrations and the prerequisite charitable events will take place in The Pavilion. Designed to accommodate large parties, corporate clients, as well as family and friends.
Herbie Pennell Cup - 20 Goal
Jan. 1 - 4, 2015
Joe Barry Memorial Cup - 20 Goal
Jan. 4 - 25, 2015
Ylvisaker Cup - 20 Goal
Jan. 28 - February 22, 2015
Iglehart Cup - 20 Goal
Feb. 28 - March 8, 2015
USPA C.V. Whitney Cup - 26 Goal
Feb. 15 - March 1, 2015
Piaget USPA Gold Cup® - 26 Goal
March 4 - March 22, 2015
111th U.S. Open Polo Championship® - 26 Goal
March 25 - April 19, 2015