Trumps Coca-Cola 13-12 in USPA Piaget Gold Cup Opener
Wellington, FL - March 5, 2015 - The second leg of the 2015 Triple Crown of polo took off in full force Thursday at the International Polo Club Palm Beach, which hosted three of the day's four matches. In opening day play for the 26-goal USPA Piaget Gold Cup, Orchard Hill defeated Coca-Cola 13-12 and Lechuza Caracas won over Valiente 14-13 (both in overtime). Las Monjitas defeated Engel & Völkers 18-8, and Audi took Alegria 16-13.
Orchard Hill Coca-Cola
Steve Van Andel A Gillian Johnston 2
Ezequiel Ferrario 7T Sugar Erskine 6
Polito Pieres 9 Julio Arellano 8
Facundo Pieres 10 Pelon Sterling 10
After its second consecutive 26-goal win of the season, Steve Van Andel burst into the Orchard Hill tent with big news for the team: "I got the penalty one, so I have to buy dinner tonight!" Facundo Pieres lobbed a quick comeback: "And I get to pick the place!" Van Andel, erupting in laughter, surely would have granted Pieres three wishes if he had a genie in a bottle. Who wouldn't for a teammate who had just scored 10 goals, including the overtime punch that won the match?
The first two chukkers offered not even an inkling that the game would go down to the wire. Other than two points by 10-goaler Pelon Sterling, Coca-Cola was hard-pressed to muster an offense. Orchard Hill ran its opponents ragged for a sustained stretch, making six goals (four of them courtesy of Pieres). Coca-Cola regrouped and went all-out with its defense. Suddenly it seemed that Sterling had devoted his life to pressuring one Pieres or another (cousins Facundo and Polito Pieres both played for Orchard Hill). Sterling had ample opportunity to do so, as most of the time a Pieres was either running the ball down the field or passing it to his counterpart. As the point spread widened, Sterling ratcheted up the ante. In the middle of the second chukker he tried to fend a determined Polito Pieres off the ball, engaging him in mallet play so intense that announcer Gus Whitelaw quipped, "It sounds like a sword fight out there!" The winner of the duel was Pieres & Co., with Polito Pieres pulling off a tag-team pass to Facundo Pieres, who scored.
A seismic shift happened in the third chukker. With Sterling leading the charge, Coca-Cola decided to make it a contest. In a blaze of red (jerseys, saddle pads and leg wraps), the team racked up three goals and was awarded a fourth as an automatic goal, all the while keeping Orchard Hill scoreless. By the end of the first half, Coca-Cola had gone from trailing by four points to tying the game (6-6). That set the tone for the rest of the match, with Coca-Cola remaining revved on both defense and offense. Orchard Hill systematically slid back into scoring mode. As Van Andel explained, "Coca-Cola played man-to-man really well, and we had a couple of bad breaks. After that it takes a little while to get your momentum back, and that's what happened."
The second half played out like a clip from "Groundhog Day," with the score ping-ponging from tied to a one- or two-point lead and then back to a tie. The last three chukkers were almost indistinguishable from one another. Each chukker ended in a tie (8-all at the end of the fourth chukker; 9 after the fifth and 12 at the end of the sixth). Both teams scored twice in the fourth (a field goal and a penalty) and three times in the sixth (two field goals and a penalty). Each got a point in the fifth, with Polito Pieres scoring from the field and Coca-Cola being awarded another automatic goal.
Parallels aside, the second half was fraught with nail-biting moments, regardless which team one was rooting for. The sidelines were electric as Gillian Johnston accelerated into going-going-gone on one of her gray speed sticks. Taking a pass from Julio Arellano, she opened her horse up, moving light years ahead of the pack to run the ball into goal. Arellano, meanwhile, took over the Facundo-Polito watch from Sterling, trying mightily to shut down any Pieres passing.
A fired-up Sugar Erskine kept Coca-Cola in the game to the very end. With less than two minutes left in the sixth chukker, he tied the score at 12, where it stood at the end of regulation play. Coca-Cola saw a glimmer of hope when Facundo Pieres's first shot on goal in overtime went wide, but he didn't let that stand for long. A whistle on an Erskine play handed the game to back to Orchard Hill, with Facundo Pieres scoring from the line.
The victory was frosting on this season's winning streak by Orchard Hill, which won the 20-goal Joe Barry Cup in January and clinched the 26-goal C.V. Whitney Cup last Sunday. As Facundo Pieres observed, four days is a very short time between two 26-goal games. "It's always hard (playing) the first game of a tournament after winning a tournament," he said. "It's hard for everybody to come back. When you win a tournament you're happy, and sometimes you need a little bit of rest for the horses." On top of that, he said, Coca-Cola is always a formidable opponent. "We knew this was going to be a tough game, and it was. I think under all those circumstances, we did pretty good beating them."
Lechuza Caracas Defeats Valiente in Epic Overtime Finish
Lechuza Caracas had the benefit of a little luck and a lot of skill to defeat defending champion Valiente 14-13 in a thrilling sudden death overtime finish in the first round of the USPA Piaget Gold Cup, hosted by the International Polo Club Palm Beach (IPC).
Lechuza Caracas Valiente
Victor Vargas 1 Bob Jornayvaz 2
Nico Pieres 8 Alejo Taranco 6
Juan Martin Nero 10 Guillermo Terrera 8
Agustin Garcia Grossi 7 Adolfo Cambiaso 10
"That was a tough game. Both teams played very well," said a jubilant but exhausted Juan Martin Nero after the match. "We were lucky that Nico made the penalty four (to tie the match at 13-all) and then in the extra chukker I got lucky, very lucky!" Ten-goaler Nero created his own luck throughout the match, most importantly in the sudden death overtime period when he sent the game-winning goal soaring over the heads of the Valiente defenders from nearly 80 yards out from goal.
The game was spectacular from start to finish. Agustin Garcia Grossi started the scoring off with a beautiful back shot that centered the ball on the goal line for teammate Nico Pieres to tap in. The first half was fast and flowing on the Lechuza Caracas field. The umpires were diligent in calling delay of game penalties when players tapped the ball too often in attempts to slow down the pace, which encouraged the teams to hit passes to teammates and open up the game. As a consequence, almost all the goals in the first half came from the field. Despite the home field advantage, Lechuza trailed Valiente by a goal heading into halftime. Valiente enjoyed a 6-5 lead behind the hot stick of Guillermo Terrera, who had four first-half goals
Pieres quickly equalized the score after halftime on a neck shot. From then on it was a neck-and-neck race to the finish, with neither team yielding more than a one-goal lead to the other. Both patrons contributed to the scoring in the fifth. First Victor Vargas hit a strong cutshot to goal on the north end, and then Bob Jornayvaz retaliated by following up Adolfo Cambiaso for a goal shot. The teams battled to an even score of 10-all at the end of the fifth chukker.
Cambiaso came out in the sixth on a mission to make things happen. He controlled the play at the boards, and then muscled by the defenders on a speedy horse to send a neckshot to goal. Lechuza countered with a pair of goals from Pieres, only to see Terrara win the subsequent lineup and immediately run to goal to tie the score again at 12-12. With just over a minute remaining, Lechuza fouled and Valiente was awarded a penalty five from midfield. Cambiaso marshaled his troops, gave them their instructions and marched the ball downfield. Nero made the hook on Cambiaso, but Jornayvaz was perfectly positioned to stroke the ball though the goal and give Valiente the lead, 13-12.
As the teams rode back to the lineup, a few spectators started to leave, thinking the game was essentially over. But then disaster struck for Valiente. A costly foul in the bowl-in by the team in blue resulted in a penalty awarded in favor of Lechuza with just seven seconds remaining before the warning horn. The ball was first placed on the center line for a penalty five, but Lechuza challenged. Based on the instant replay, the ball was moved up to the 60-yard line for a penalty four. Pieres walked his horse up to the ball, as calm as if he was practicing on his own farm in Argentina, and sent the ball high and straight through the goal posts to send the game into overtime.
Cambiaso won the first bowl-in of the overtime period, but as he ran to goal the ball took a bad bounce and was backed away by a Lechuza defender. Pieres took possession of the ball and arrowed a pass to Nero. Nero broke the hearts of the Valiente players as he sent a perfect shot to goal to win the match 14-13 for Lechuza. Instant replay was crucial in the match, especially on the last call for Lechuza that resulted in a penalty four for the team. "That was the first challenge we ever won!" said Nero. Pieres played a strong game for Lechuza, scoring a game high of 10 goals and sending it into overtime on the key penalty four conversion. What thoughts were running through his mind as he rode his horse up to the ball for the final penalty shot? "I knew I had to put that one in because if not, I had to give a barbecue to Flaco!" he said, referring to teammate Grossi.
Lechuza and Valiente next play on Sunday in the second round of the USPA Piaget Gold Cup at IPC.
International Polo Club Palm Beach Fast Facts:
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