by U.S. Polo Correspondent Alex Webbe

Wins by Valiente and Zacara in Wednesday afternoon’s semifinals of the Maserati US Open set the stage for Sunday’s 3pm finals at the International Polo Club in Wellington. Valiente hammered Coca-Cola in a 14-8 rout that was over after the second chukker as they ran out to a humiliating 10-2 halftime lead before coasting to a six goal 14-8 win. Valiente’s Pelon Stirling scored the first goal of the game from the opening throw-in, for a 1-0 lead. Over three minutes passed with neither team being able to convert on a scoring effort. At the 3:46 mark, Adolfo Cambiaso drove the ball through the Coca-Cola goalposts, 2-0. With two-and-a-half minutes left in the chukker, Julio Arellano finally got Coca-Cola on the scoreboard, 2-1. Stirling scored on a beautifully executed backhander as he rode past the goal. The first period ended with Valiente on top, 3-1.

Cambiaso and Stirling each added a pair of goals in the second chukker while holding Coca-Cola to a single penalty conversion from Arellano. Valiente was in complete control of the second period and raced out to a 7-2 advantage over a struggling Coca-Cola lineup. Three more Valiente goals went unanswered in the third period, with Stirling scoring all three of them. Every Coca-Cola effort was either turned aside or shut down before it got started. Bob Jornayvaz stretched the front end of the lineup, Santi Torres was the muscle in the Number 2 slot, and the dynamic duo of Cambiaso and Stirling did the rest. The synchronized play of the two 10-goalers almost looked as if it were choreographed as they passed and covered for one another with tactical precision. At the end of the first half Valiente was ahead by eight goals, 10-2. Coca-Cola showed a little spark in the fourth, with all three of their goals coming on penalty shots by Arellano. Stirling added another goal from the field and Torres converted a penalty shot for a goal. After four chukkers of play, Valiente was running away from Coca-Cola with a 12-5 lead.

A scoreless fifth chukker had a frustrated Coca-Cola foursome struggling to find answers to the Valiente defense while Valiente seemed to ease up. With one chukker left in the game, Coca-Cola continued to trail by seven goals, 12-5. Sebastian Merlos and Torres exchanged goals in the first three minutes of the sixth chukker with Merlos scoring from the field and Torres scoring on a penalty shot, 13-6. Arellano scored his fifth penalty goal of the game at the 2:42 mark, but Cambiaso answered with a goal from the field with less than two minutes left in the game. Valiente seemed to be comfortable allowing Merlos to score the final goal of the game for the 14-8 final. Valiente’s Stirling led all scoring with eight goals on the day. Cambiaso added four and Torres scored on two penalty shots. Arellano scored five of his six gals on penalty shots. Merlos added two goals in the loss. The victory advances Valiente to a finalist’s berth in Sunday’s Maserati US Open finals.

ZACARA 11, ERG 10 OT
Zacara remains the only team in the field that managed to defeat Valiente during the 2013 26-goal season. Zacara knocked Valiente out of the C.V. Whitney Cup with an opening round, 8-7 victory. They skipped through the early rounds of the USPA Piaget Gold Cup before giving up an early lead to lose to Valiente in the finals, 13-9, but they never considered ERG to be a major stumbling block in their efforts to earn a rematch with Valiente. All eyes were on Zacara 10-goaler Facundo Pieres, and rightfully so. Pieres converted a 60-yard penalty shot for a goal less than two minutes into the game for an early 1-0 advantage. ERG’s Eduardo Novillo Astrada responded with a goal from the field. 1-1. Pieres scored with 2:44 left in the chukker followed by a goal from the field from Magoo Laprida. An ERG foul sent Pieres to the penalty line with 26 seconds left in the chukker. He converted the 40-yard penalty shot for a goal and a 4-1 Zacara lead.

Neither team seemed to get into synch in the second chukker, with both sides making runs up and down the field. Zacara held their three goal lead, 4-1. The tempo was not much better in the third. With spectators trying to cheer the teams into action, short-circuited plays and broken up passes made it a very ugly game to watch. Pieres and Tincho Merlos exchanged penalty goals and the chukker ended with Zacara leading by three goals, 5-2. It looked like there would be no let up by Zacara in second half action. Pieres took the opening throw-in and raced downfield for a goal just 14 seconds into play, 6-2. That was when ERG appeared to wake up. Merlos scored two goals from the field, cutting the Zacara lead to two goals, 6-4.

At the four minute mark Eduardo Novillo Astrada made it a one goals game, 6-5, with his first goal of the day. Pieres scored the final goal of the period on a penalty conversion with under two minutes on the clock. Zacara held on to the lead going into the fifth. ERG wasn’t through, as Merlos scored the opening two goals of the fifth to tie it up at 7-7. A collision on the field involved Zacara’s Magoo Laprida and Mike Azzaro, as both players fell to the ground. A brief intermission ensued allowing time to remove an injured horse from the field and get both Laprida and Azzaro back in the saddle, and the game continued. Pieres got Zacara refocused with a goal from the field with under two minutes in the period. A penalty conversion with 15 seconds left in the chukker restored the Zacara lead to two goals, 9-7.

With a dazed Zacara team (both Laprida and Azzaro suffered bumps and bruises in the fifth chukker collision, and were painfully attempting to ride out the game, but ERG would have none of it. Paco de Narvaez cut the Zacara lead to a single goal, 9-8, on a 60-yard penalty conversion in the opening 35 seconds of the sixth chukker. Two minutes later, Astrada tied it up with his third goal of the game, 9-9. Merlos gave ERG their first lead of the game, 10-9, with 2:06 left in the chukker, but there was just too much time left on the clock. An ERG penalty sent Pieres to the line where he converted the shot for a 10-10 tie, and that was where it stood when time ran out.

After a brief intermission, a sudden-death overtime period got underway with a determined Zacara’s Pieres taking control of the ball and racing down the field before a miscue left the ball just yards from the winning score. ERG reversed the direction of play, but as both parties struggled for control of the ball, the umpire’s whistle sounded just 90 seconds into the overtime, and Azzaro took the penalty shot that was blocked out of bounds by ERG. A subsequent Safety was awarded and this time it was Pieres who attempted the 60-yard shot that he lofted high above and between the goal posts for the 11-10 overtime win. Pieres was on fire, scoring seven of his game high ten goals on penalty shots. Laprida accounted for the only other Zacara score. ERG got six gals from Merlos and three from Astrada, De Narvaez scored once in the loss. The win boosted Zacara into a rematch with Valiente in Sunday’s 3 pm finals of the 2013 Maserati US Open Championship against a powerful Zacara team.


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

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

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

ERG (+26)
Scott Wood (0) / Wesley Bryan
Tincho Merlos (+9)
Eduardo Novillo Astrada (+9)
Paco de Narvaez (+8)

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

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

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

Piaget (+26)
Melissa Ganzi (0) / Matias Sosa
Nacho Badiola (+6)
Sapo Caset (+10) / Lucas Lalor and Juan Bollini / Nacho Novillo Astrada (+10)
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)