Coca-Cola owned the field for the first four chukkers of Sunday's featured match against Villa del Lago in the 2015 Joe Barry Cup on Engel & Völkers Field at the International Polo Club Palm Beach in Wellington, Florida. But in the end, the "Polito factor" (which had been giving Coca-Cola a caffeine headache throughout the game) proved too powerful. Nine-goaler Polito Pieres made the last two chukkers his own, reversing Coca-Cola's consistent lead and acing the game for Villa del Lago, 13-12.
Pieres made his intentions clear the moment he rode onto the field, scoring the first goal of the day on a handoff from Julian de Lusarreta. In the first of many demonstrations of his legendary ball-handling skill, Pieres promptly scored again, pulling out in front of the pack to make a razor-sharp, precise cutshot. Coca-Cola's Julio Arellano, an 8-goaler, scored on two penalty shots, with Gillian Johnston adding another point to the team's tally.
In a show of teamwork at its finest, Coca-Cola's Mason Wroe took control of the ball from a throw-in and shuttled it over to Johnston. In a well played neckshot, Johnston smacked the ball with authority between the goalposts, breaking a 2-all tie and moving Coca-Cola into a 3-2 lead at the end of the first chukker.
The action accelerated in the second chukker and never stalled after that. Arellano scored on a penalty, increasing Coca-Cola's lead to two points. Then, in a flash of no more than four seconds, Villa del Lago went from two points down to even keel with Coca-Cola. Pieres hit the throttle, tightening the gap to 4-3 as he went forward uncontested. On a bowl-in, de Lusarreta fired at point-blank range from four yards in front of the goal line to tie the game at 4 all.
Johnston jumped in seemingly out of nowhere, as she had earlier in the game, and dashed down the field with the ball. Pieres snatched it away, only to have Wroe pull a surprise swoop-in and score, bringing Coca-Cola to a 5-4 lead. Wroe's stealth move turned out to be a harbinger of the recognition that was to come his way after the game, when he was named MVP.
Things took a curious twist near the end of the second chukker. Arellano scored on a penalty #2 for Coca-Cola, and then several mallets went up like lightning rods. A foul was called against Villa del Lago, and some high-volume words (unintelligible from the stands) were exchanged. Pieres summarily wheeled his horse around and cantered off the field, having been ousted on a technical for the last remaining minute of the chukker.
When asked after the game about the incident, Pieres laughed good-naturedly and explained, "For me, it wasn't a foul for us. But they blew the whistle for us. I complained to the umpire. He told me, 'One minute down.'"
It was a costly penalty for Villa del Lago. With its 9-goaler out, the team lost almost half of its total handicap (20) for the rest of the chukker. The action played out with four Coca-Cola players against Villa's three. Arellano worked that to his team's advantage, taking a free hit from centerfield and working the ball down the field to score. The scoreboard stood 7-4 in favor of Coca-Cola at the end of the second chukker. When Pieres rejoined the game for the third chukker, he promptly made his presence known. On a handoff from de Lusarreta, he turned toward goal, avoided a hook from Wroe and proceeded to slice and dice his way down the field with stunning stick work that resulted in yet another goal.
Arellano pounded a big hit downfield, which was briefly intercepted by Jim Zenni. Coca-Cola's Sugar Erskine snatched the ball away and pulled out ahead, making his first of two goals for the day and increasing his team's lead to 8-5. A colorful character in more ways than one, Erskine was easily identifiable on the field in his creative version of "Coca-Cola red" branding. He had dyed his long hair red - not red as in a typical carrot-top but red as in fluorescent, flaming red. The same went for his boots.
When asked after the game what had prompted his fashion statement, Erskine said casually, in his lyrical South African accent, "Oh, it's just a Coca-Cola-oriented thing I thought up. I'm always trying to do something silly, and Gillian's very nice - she lets me do whatever I want. I get away with it, so I keep doing it." But don't expect Erskine to look the same in his next match. He said he had made a vow with his teammates that if they won today's match, he would keep his hair long and continue dying it red. "But we didn't win," he said, "so I'm going to shave my hair off" - to which his teammate Arellano quipped with a laugh: "I think he threw the game because of that!"
But when halftime began, it looked like Erskine may just have to keep his red locks, with Coca-Cola leading 8-6. Arellano increased that spread to 9-6, scoring his seventh goal for the day (of an eventual nine), this one on a penalty #4 from 60 yards. He maintained a 100 percent record of scoring on his 60s throughout the match.
Pieres quickly tightened the gap with Coca-Cola, bringing the score to 9-7 at the end of the fourth chukker. He made what for anyone but him would have been an unbelievable play, busting out of a thick traffic jam and dribbling the ball on the end of his mallet on a long stretch to the goal. It looked like a "Polito sandwich," with an opponent glued to each side of him all the way down the field.
The players had been fighting strong crosswinds the entire game, but the weather turned when a hard rain pelleted the field for most of the fifth chukker. Coca-Cola's early command of the game soon came to a halt, courtesy of Pieres. He had already made six goals by then, but his team was still trailing.
Then in rapid-fire wizardry, he slammed in three more goals in the fifth chukker to pull Villa del Lago into a one-point lead, 11-10. Arellano dug in his heels and gave Pieres a run for his money, making his eighth goal of the day and repeating it in the sixth chukker. But nothing could stop the Pieres steamroller, powered by his grit and an amazing string of ponies. Among them was Cordorniz, named the best-playing pony in the post-match ceremony.
Also in the awards was Coca-Cola's Wroe, who was named MVP. Just minutes before the award was announced, Wroe was wearing a pensive look as he sat in the Coca-Cola tent with Erskine and Arellano, replaying the game in his head. Arellano looked his way and said gently but with conviction, "We can do it. We have a good team." All three nodded in silence.
Things were looking up for Coca-Cola for a stretch in the sixth chukker, when Arellano and Erskine both put in goals. But Villa del Lago kept its one-point spread intact to the end, as Agustin Obregon tapped one in and Pieres made the decisive goal to clinch a 13-12 win.
In Pieres's opinion, the most challenging point of the game came at the end of the second chukker. "We were three goals down; we suffered a lot," he recalled. "But we (knew that we) could score, and we played as a team so we could win it." How did they accomplish that? "We played focused most of the game. Coca-Cola's a great team, but we are also. We missed a lot of goals, but we have patience and we played to win it."
The action resumes Wednesday at 1 p.m., when Lucchese plays Audi, followed by CT Energia versus Tonkawa at 3.
Orchard Hill 2-0 in Victory Over Merchant Hub
Sunday's morning matches were a showcase of talent and horsemanship, with each game more evenly matched than the last in the Joe Barry Cup at International Polo Club Palm Beach (IPC). Orchard Hill defeated Merchant Hub 12-11 and Flight Options bested Lechuza Caracas 8-7.
Game 1- Merchant Hub v. Orchard Hill
Merchant Hub Orchard Hill
Scott Swerdlin A Steve Van Andel A
Marianito Obregon 7 Lucas Criado 8
Facundo Obregon 6 Facundo Pieres 10
Luis Escobar 6 Remy Mueller 2
Starting the game with a one-point advantage, Merchant Hub took off to an early lead in the first chukker following a penalty conversion on an undefended goal. Orchard Hill's Facundo Pieres answered with a goal of his own, ending the first chukker 2-1. During the second chukker, in what was undoubtedly the play of the game, Remy Mueller backed out a very close goal attempt by Luis Escobar. Lucas Criado received the pass from his teammate and broke away down the field, tying up the score 2-2. After a pair of goals by Pieres and Facundo Obregon, the score remained tied at the end of the second chukker 3-3.
After the half, Orchard Hill demonstrated its team work, starting with an impressive cut shot by Steve Van Andel that resulted in a goal. Mueller followed up Van Andel's goal with a passing play to Pieres, who drove in the goal to make the score 5-3. Toward the end of the fourth chukker, Luis Escobar made a pin-point accurate sharp-angled neck shot into the goal that tied the game 6-6. Van Andel, Orchard Hill's patron, ended the fourth chukker with a goal, bringing the score to 7-6 in favor of Orchard Hill.
Pieres took the field by storm in the fifth chukker, scoring four of Orchard Hill's five goals. Escobar answered the challenge by scoring one goal and assisting one goal scored by Obregon. Then Pieres scored for Orchard Hill, bringing the score to 8-12. Obregon rallied as the chukker went on, scoring three more goals, but ran out of time as the horn sounded
Van Andel was thrilled with his team's performance. "I think the whole team played awesome," he said. "This was our second game, and we haven't really had a chance to have a team practice yet. I think we've come a long ways in two games. It's coming together really quickly."
When asked to what he attributed his team's success, Van Andel credited its defense. "I think that's allowed us to be really quick if we have to break on offense," he said.
Flight Option Flies to Victory Over Lechuza Caracas
Game 2- Lucheza Caracas v. Flight Options
Lucheza Caracas Flight Options
Victor Vargas 1 Justin Daniels A
Marcos Alberdi 3 Juan Bollini 5
Martin Espain 6 Miguel Astrada 9
Juan Martin Nero 10 Guille Aguero 6
In the second match of the day, Lechuza Caracas sprang to an early lead. Juan Martin Nero scored the first goal of the game on a pass from patron Victor Vargas. Marcos Alberdi followed that up with a goal of his own, ending the first chukker 2-0 in favor of Lechuza Caracas.
In the second chukker, Justin Daniels, substituting for Melissa Ganzi, scored Flight Options' lone goal of the chukker. Miguel Novilla Astrada made a superb defensive move, hitting the ball in midair and driving it out of Fight Options territory. Nero scored his second goal of the match on a penalty conversion, ripping a high and long shot to end the second chukker 3-1.
The third chukker was wide open, as Victor Vargas completed a 140-yard run on a breakaway to make the score 4-1. Astrada put one up on the board for Flight Options before the end of the third chukker and continued his streak into the fourth by scoring again as he brought Flight Options closer to Lechuza Caracas. Guille Aguero tied up the game at 4-4. After penalty conversions by Nero and Martin Espain, the score remained close as the chukker ended 6-5 in favor of Lechuza Caracas.
Astrada put up the only goal scored in the fifth chukker. After an inconsequential spill by Nero, Lechuza Caracas took a narrow lead resulting from a goal by Espain. Aguero stayed cool and collected under pressure, earning two goals as the sixth chukker wound down. Although Aguero had twisted his ankle earlier in the game, his final goals resulted in Flight Options' victory of 8-7 over Lechuza Caracas.