by U.S. Polo Correspondent Alex Webbe

Wednesday semifinal wins by Valiente (Bob Jornayvaz, Santi Torres, Sapo Caset and Adolfo Cambiaso) and Alegria (Julian Mannix, Clemente Zavaleta, Mariano Aguerre and Hilario Ulloa) set the stage for the International Polo Club’s penultimate high goal final in the title game of the 2014 USPA Piaget Gold Cup Sunday afternoon.

In the afternoon’s first semifinal, Valiente and Audi (Marc Ganzi, Gonzalito Pieres, Rodrigo Andrade and Gonzalo Del Tour) battled a talented Audi team to a 6-5 halftime lead before racing away from them in second half action to register a decisive 14-10 win and earn a berth in Sunday’s tournament final. Valiente’s talented 6-goaler Santi Torres got the scoring started early as he gave Valiente the early 1-0 lead less than 20 seconds in to the match. Teammate Sapo Caset made it 2-0 before Audi could respond. Audi 10-goaler Gonzalito Pieres finally got his team on the scoreboard with a goal from the field followed by a tying goal from Brazil’s Rodrigo Andrade, 2-2. Adolfo Cambiaso gave Valiente the lead again with 1:06 on the clock, 5-4. Torres extended to Valiente lead to two goals with his second goal of the game to end the first chukker on top of a 4-2 score. Valiente continued to hold the lead throughout the following chukker on the strength of a pair of goals from Sapo Caset (one on a penalty shot). Audi responded with single goals from Pieres (penalty conversion) and Gonzalo Del Tour. Valiente continued to lead, 6-4.

Andrade managed to shave the Valiente lead back down to a single goal, 7-6, scoring twice from the field. Cambiaso scored for Valiente who stayed in front at the end of the first half, 7-6. The Valiente attack swarmed Audi as second half play got started. Goals from Caset and Cambiaso were the only scores of the chukker. The Valiente lead had grown to three goals, 9-6. Four more fifth chukker Valiente goals ran the score up to 13-8 with Audi having no answer for the Valiente attack. Caset scored twice with Santos and Cambiaso adding single goals. Audi was held to a penalty goal from Pieres and a goal from the field from team captain Marc Ganzi. It was Valiente firmly in control for the final chukker. Pieres cut the lead back to four goals, 13-9, in the opening 38 seconds of the sixth. Despite a number of runs at the Valiente goal, Audi couldn’t add to it. Caset converted a 60-yard penalty shot for a goal, 14-9 at the 4:38 mark with Audi trying desperately to stage a rally. With time running out, Andrade scored on a great personal effort with 1:13 left in the game, but that would be the end of it. The final horn sounded for the 14-10 Valiente victory.

Caset led all scoring with seven goals (four on penalty conversions). Cambiaso added four goals and Torres scored three times. Andrade and Pieres each scored four goals (Pieres scored three penalty goals). Ganzi and Del Tour each added a goal in a losing effort. The victory boosts Valiente into the finals of the 2014 USPA Piaget gold cup and offers them the opportunity of scoring a third consecutive Gold Cup win.

ALEGRIA 8, LECHUZA CARACAS 7 OT
Alegria (Julian Mannix, Clemente Zavaleta, Mariano Aguerre and Hilario Ulloa) managed to score a come-from-behind overtime win over Lechuza Caracas (Victor Vargas, Nico Pieres, Juan Martin Nero and Nico Espain) Wednesday afternoon to earn a finalist spot in the Piaget Gold Cup on Sunday.

In a game that looked more like “The Gang That Couldn’t Shot Straight” than some of the best polo players in the game, the two teams went scoreless through the first chukker and nearly another five minutes of the second. Lechuza Caracas team captain Victor Vargas scored the opening goal of the match with less than three minutes left in the second period for the 1-0 lead. Nico Pieres made it 2-0 with a 60-yard penalty conversion at 1:31 to end the chukker. Hilario Ulloa scored Alegria’s first goal in the first 29 seconds of the third chukker, 2-1, bur Lechuza Caracas roared back with consecutive goals from Pieres (penalty goal) and 10-goaler Juan Martin Nero, 4-1. Julian Mannix scored the final goal of the chukker for Alegria to cut the lead back to two goals, 4-2. The two teams traded goals in the fourth with Pieres putting Lechuza Caracas ahead by three goals, 5-2 on a goal from the field. Ulloa responded at the 1:59 mark with a penalty conversion to end the chukker trailing Lechuza Caracas, 5-3. Ulloa jumped into the mix early again in the fifth period, scoring a goal that cut the Lechuza Caracas lead to a single goal, 5-4. Clemente Zavaleta tied it up for Alegria, 5-5, on a penalty conversion at 6:12. Goals from Nero and Pieres (penalty goal), however, ended the chukker with Lechuza Caracas in the lead by two goals, 7-5.

Alegria turned up the heat in the sixth. Mannix brought Alegria to within a goal of the lead, 7-6, with a goal on a breakaway just 17 seconds into the chukker. Two minutes later Ulloa had it all even on a goal from the field. Both teams struggled to earn the go-ahead goal, but when the final horn sounded it was all even at 7-7. After a brief recess both teams returned to the field for the overtime chukker. Experiencing the same series of missed shots on goal that they had earlier in the game, both Alegria and Lechuza Caracas suffered a number of missed opportunities. Finally, with 3:30 left in the overtime period, Ulloa broke through the Lechuza Caracas defense to score the winning goal, 8-7.

Ulloa led the field with five goals on the day, including the game winner. Mannix added two goals and Zavaleta added a goal for the win. Pieres scored three of his team high four goals on penalty shots. Nero added two goals and Vargas scored once in the loss. The victory sends Alegria into Sunday’s Piaget Gold Cup finals against the defending championship Valiente team, a team that has already captured the 26-goal C.V. Whitney Cup and seems determined to sweep Florida’s 2014 high-goal season.