by U.S. Polo Correspondent Alex Webbe

After two weeks and 18 games, Valiente (3-0), Zacara (3-0), Lechuza (3-0) and Alegria (2-1) emerged from a field of eleven teams to play in Wednesday’s semifinals of the 2013 USPA Piaget Gold Cup at the International Polo Club in Wellington.

In the final round of preliminary play Sunday afternoon, ten of the eleven teams took the field, with the results defining the tournament semifinalists. In two Sunday morning games, Zacara (3-0) kept its record intact with a 16-10 win over Audi (2-2) while Alegria (2-1) managed to hold off Mt. Brilliant in a 7-5 victory. At noon Lechuza (3-0) handed Orchard Hill its second loss of the tournament while Zacara unloaded on Audi 16-10. In the feature match of the day, on the stadium field, ERG managed to sneak past a make-shift Piaget team 7-6. (Piaget 10-goaler Sapo Caset was sidelined with the flu forcing the reshuffle of the lineup that would eventually consist of Miguel Astrada, Lucas Lalor, Juan Bollini and Nacho Badiola.)

Audi (2-2) took the field at the International Polo Club Sunday morning intent on defeating a powerful and veteran Zacara (3-0) lineup that that came out on the winning end of a 16-10 score. Zacara 10-goaler Facundo Pieres scored the first goal of the match in the opening seconds of the first chukker of play followed by a goal from teammate Magoo Laprida for a 2-0 lead. Facundo Pieres scored his second goal of the day on a penalty conversion, 3-0. Audi 7-goaler Jeff Hall converted a penalty shot with 1:18 on the clock to get on the scoreboard, and the chukker ended with Zacara in front, 3-1.

Facundo Pieres blasted the ball through the Audi goalposts from over 100 yards out at 7:01 of the second chukker. Zacara is in front, 4-1. Hall responds for Audi with another penalty conversion, cutting the lead back to two goals, 4-2. Facundo Pieres converted a penalty shot (4:31) and teammate Mike Azzaro scored with 18 seconds on the clock to end the period with a 6-2 edge. Laprida scored the first goal of the third chukker for Zacara, but Audi responded with a pair of penalty goals from Nico Pieres, 7-4. Azzaro’s second goal of the game had Zacara in front by four goals, 8-4. Nico Pieres scored his third penalty shot of the chukker, cutting the Zacara lead to three goals, 8-5, to end the first half.

Audi got a jump start on the second half with three unanswered goals to knot it up at 8-8. Gonzalito Pieres scored twice from the field while Nico Pieres scored on a penalty shot. A hard bump on the field had Zacara team captain Lyndon Lea leaving the field. Fourteen-year-old Matias Gonzalez took the reins and joined the team on the field for the duration of the match. With two chukkers left in regulation time, it was all even at 8-8. An early penalty shot for a goal by Facundo Pieres opened the fifth chukker, and gave the lead back to Zacara, 9-8. Azzaro scored on a backhander less than a minute later and added another goal from the field following the throw-in, giving Zacara a three goal, 11-8 lead. Gonzalito Pieres and Facundo Pieres exchanged goals, 12-9, with Zacara extending its lead to four goals, 13-9 on a goal from Facundo in the last 10 seconds of the period.

Laprida scored two more goals in the final chukker and Facundo Pieres converted a penalty shot for a goal. Audi’s Hall scored the final goal of the chukker, but it was Zacara that took the game, 16-10. Facundo Pieres led all scoring with eight goals on the day (five on penalty shots). Laprida and Azzaro scored four goals apiece. Nico Pieres set the pace for Audi with four goals (all on penalty shots). Hall and Gonzalito Pieres scored three goals each in the loss.

ALEGRIA 7, MT. BRILLIANT 5
Mt. Brilliant limped into Sunday’s second morning Piaget Gold Cup game of the day with an anemic 0-3 record, but put up a fight against an Alegria foursome that was battling to make it into the tournament semifinals. Alegria’s Facundo Obregon scored the first goal of the game but Mt. Brilliant responded with single goals from Bo Goodman and Nic Roldan for an early 2-1 advantage. Both defenses tightened up in the second with Alegria’s Mariano Aguerre registering the only goal of the chukker. After just fifteen minutes of play it was all tied up at 2-2. Alegria took control of the game in the third. Shutout defense was complimented by a pair of 60-yard penalty goals from Aguerre and a goal from the field from Julian Mannix. At the end of the first half, Alegria had forged ahead by three goals, 5-2.

Santiago Chavanne cut into the Alegria lead with a goal from the field, but that would be all Mt. Brilliant would be able to produce in the fourth period. Aguerre responded with another penalty conversion for a goal. The three goal lead held, 6-3. The Mt. Brilliant defense stepped it up in the fifth chukker, shutting down the Alegria attack. Roldan converted a penalty shot for a goal. Alegria continued to lead, but the margin had been cut to two goals, 6-4. Hilario Ulloa scored on a penalty shot for Alegria while Chavanne scored the final goal of the match for a disappointed Mt. Brilliant effort in the 7-5 loss.

Aguerre was credited with four goals (three on penalty shots) in the Alegria victory. Obregon, Mannix and Ulloa scored one goal each Roldan and Chavanne scored two goals apiece for Mt. Brilliant. Goodman scored a single goal in the loss.

LECHUZA CARACAS 13, ORCHARD HILL 11
With a 2-0 record, Lechuza Caracas was one of only three undefeated teams going into Sunday’s USPA Piaget Gold Cup action while Orchard Hill was looking to improve onits 1-1 record. Orchard Hill showed up strong in the opening chukker, picking up a pair of goals from 10-goaler Pablo MacDonough and a single goal from his brother Matias. Lechuza Caracas managed only a single goal from Francisco Elizalde and trailed 3-1 as the chukker ended.

Lechuza Caracas regrouped and turned the tables on Orchard Hill in the second period. Team captain Victor Vargas scored the first goal of the game when he took control of the ball in the Lechuza Caracas end of the field and made a brilliant return of 250 yards for a goal. Elizalde tapped in a pinpoint pass from Polito Pieres for the second goal of the chukker, to tie the game at 3-3. Vargas scored his second goal of the chukker at the 2:25 mark to give his team their first lead of the match, but a goal from Matias MacDonough with a minute-and-a-half on the clock had it deadlocked at 4-4. The Orchard Hill defense stymied the Lechuza Caracas offense in the third while registering a pair of unanswered goals of their own. Matias Macdonough scored the first goal of the chukker on a goal from the field and the other on a penalty shot. At the end of the first half Orchard Hill was riding a two goal lead, 6-4, off the field.

Orchard Hill stretched its lead to three goals in the fourth chukker on a pair of goals from Matias MacDonough and a single goal from Pablo MacDonough. Lechuza Caracas got single goals from Vargas and Elizalde, and fell behind, 9-6. Everything seemed to go right for Lechuza Caracas in the fifth. Pieres scored one goal from the field and a goal on a penalty shot while 10-goaler Juan Martin Nero scored twice. The Lechuza Caracas defense kept Orchard Hall from scoring and took a narrow 10-9 lead.

Pieres converted a penalty shot to open the final chukker, 11-9, but Pablo MacDonough finally managed to break through for his fifth goal on the day, 11-10. Elizalde backhanded the ball through the goalposts with 3:16 left in regulation time, but Brazilian 8-goaler Rodrigo Andrade backhanded the ball through the goalposts from 60-yards, cutting the Lechuza Caracas lead back to a single goal, 12-11. Orchard Hill struggled to get back into the game, but couldn’t complete an attack. In the final seconds of play, Elizalde picked up the gall and raced down the field for the final goal of the game in a 13-11 Lechuza Caracas win.

Pablo Macdonough and Matias MacDonough scored five goals apiece for Orchard Hill. Andrade added a single goal. A balanced Lechuza Caracas attack had Nero leading the scoring with four goals while teammates Elizalde, Pieres and Vargas each scored three times for the win.

ZORZAL 12, COCA-COLA 11
After trailing 7-2 at halftime, Coca-Cola rallied with nine second half goals to tie Zorzal at 11-11 and force overtime where they lost 12-11. Zorzal scored three of the four first chukker goals with single goals from the field from Jason Crowder and Marianito Obregon and a 60-yard penalty conversion from Mariano Gonzalez. Coca-Cola team captain Gillian Johnston scored her team’s only goal to trail, 3-1. Three more Zorzal goals went unanswered in the second period with Gonzalez converting a 60-yard penalty shot and a goal from the field. Crowder added a penalty goal and Zorzal led Coca-Cola, 6-1. Coca-Cola showed some signs of life in the third. Johnston added another goal and their defense held Zorzal (from Obregon). At the end of the first half, Zorzal controlled a 7-2 lead.

Johnston scored her third goal of the match and 9-goaler Julio Arellano added two penalty goals to the growing total. Zorzal saw Gonzalez add another goal from the field and Mannix scored on a penalty shot. Coca-Cola cut into the Zorzal lead, but continued to trail, 9-5. Coca-Cola managed to get both its offense and its defense on the same page in the fifth period. Two goals from the field from Sugar Erskine and a 40-yard penalty goal from Arellano were accompanied with lights out defense that kept Zorzal from scoring. The lead had been cut to a single goal, 9-8 going into the final chukker in regulation play.

Erskine’s third goal of the day was followed by a penalty goal from Arellano, giving Coca-Cola its first lead of the game, 10-9. Zorzal was awarded a Penalty 1, an automatic goal, to tie it at 10-10. Mannix scored the go-ahead goal in the waning moments of the sixth in what looked like a win until a defensive foul sent Coca-Cola to the penalty line where Arellano converted the shot to tie it at 11-11, forcing sudden-death overtime.The winning goal was scored in overtime by Mannix from the field for the 12-11 victory. A balanced Zorzal attack had Gonzalez scoring four goals (two on penalty shots). Mannix added three goals to the total and Crowder and Obregon scored two goals apiece for the win. Arellano’s five goals led the Coca-Cola attack. Erskine and Johnston each scored three times in a losing effort.

ERG 7, PIAGET 6
A case of the flu sidelined Piaget 10-goaler Sapo Caset and forced the team to realign its roster for its match with ERG. Team captain Melissa Ganzi sat down to allow the team to bring in 5-goalers Lucas Lalor and Juan Bollini, but it wasn’t enough as ERG took the game by a narrow 7-6 margin.

Agustin Merlos scored the first goal of the game for ERG with Piaget’s Lucas Lalor accounting for their only first chukker goal. The two teams left the field at the end of the chukker in a 1-1 tie. ERG erupted for three goals in the second chukker while holding Piaget scoreless. A pair of goals from Paco de Narvaez and a 40-yard penalty conversion from Merlos put ERG in front by three goals, 4-1. The two teams exchanged goals in the third. Single goals from Piaget’s Lalor and Nacho Badiola were answered by single goals from Scott Wood and Merlos. At the end of the first half ERG continued to hold their three goal lead, 6-3.

In a case of the gang that couldn’t shoot straight, both teams missed scoring opportunities with shots going wide, passes being intercepted and sloppy teamplay, the teams exchanged single goals in the fourth. Merlos scored his fourth goal of the game while 10-goaler Miguel Astrada scored his first goal of the day. The ERG lead remained at three, 7-4. The two teams went scoreless in the fifth while Piaget managed a pair of goals in the sixth with Badiola and Juan Bollini each managed a single goal. With time running out, Piaget made a final run at the goalposts with the shot going wide and ERG celebrating the 7-6 win.

Merlos scored four goals for ERG. De Narvaez added two goals to the pot with Wood scoring once in a winning effort. Piaget’s Lalor and Badiola scored two goals apiece. Astrada and Bollini added single goals in the loss.

USPA PIAGET GOLD CUP SEMIFINALS
Following a series of shootouts to determine seeding, five teams (Valiente, Zacara, Alegria, Zorzal and ERG) took to the field in a penalty shootout that would not only decide the winner of the II/III Brackets with Valiente beating Zacara for a top seeding. Then ERG, Alegria and Zorzal fought it out with Alegria surviving to qualify for the semifinals. Lechuza Caracas already qualified by winning Bracket I with a 3-0 record. A draw decided Wednesday’s USPA Piaget Gold Cup semifinal playing pairings and order with Zacara facing Lechuza Caracas at 2pm while Valiente and Alegria will take the field at 4m.


The Teams:
Alegria (+26)
Julian Mannix (+2)
Hilario Ulloa (+9)
Mariano Aguerre (+9)
Facundo Obregon (+6)

Audi (+26)
Marc Ganzi (+1) / Juancito Bollini
Nico Pieres (+8)
Gonzalito Pieres (+10)
Jeff Hall (+7)

Coca-Cola (+26)
Gillian Johnston (+1)
Sugar Erskine (+7)
Sebastian Merlos (+9)
Julio Arellano (+9)

ERG (+26)
Scott Wood (0)
Tincho Merlos (+9)
Eduardo N Astrada (+9)
Paco de Narvaez (+8)

Lechuza Caracas (+26)
Victor Vargas (+1)
Polito Pieres (+8)
Juan Martin Nero (+10)
Francisco Elizalde (+7)

Mt Brilliant/ Faraway (+26 / +25)
Bo / Hutton Goodman (+1 / 0)
Santiago Chavanne (+9)
Nic Roldan (+8)
Matias Magrini (+8)

Orchard Hill (+26)
Steve van Andel (0)
Matias MacDonough (+8)
Pablo MacDonough (+10)
Rodrigo Andrade (+8)
Alternativ: Nic Roldan (+8)

Piaget (+25 / +26)
Melissa Ganzi (0)
Nacho Badiola (+6) / Juan Bollini (+5)
Sapo Caset (+10) / Lucas Lalor (+5)
Miguel Novillo Astrada (+10)

Valiente (+26)
Bob Jornayvaz (0)
Pelon Stirling (+10)
Adolfo Cambiaso (+10)
Santi Torres (+6)

Zacara (+26)
Facundo Pieres (+10)
Lyndon Lea (+1)
Magoo Laprida (+8)
Mike Azzaro (+7)

Zorzal (+26)
Fred Mannix (+6)
Jason Crowder (+6)
Marianito Obregon (+7)
Mariano Gonzalez (+7)

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