by U.S. Polo Correspondent Alex Webbe

Two of the season’s most exciting matches saw Zacara and Valiente score victories and earn berths in the finals of the USPA Piaget Gold Cup on Sunday at the International Polo Club in Wellington. In Wednesday afternoon’s semifinal Gold Cup games, Zacara managed to hold of Lechuza long enough to register an 11-10 win; while Valiente flexed their muscles in the second semifinal, downing Alegria 15-10 as both teams secured their places in this year’s USPA Piaget Gold Cup finals.

Zacara secured the first USPA Piaget Gold Cup final spot in a one goal win over Lechuza Caracas in game that was nip-and-tuck throughout six chukkers of competition that left horses and players spent. Playing without team captain Lyndon Lea (injured hip), Zacara took the field with 0-goaler Matias Gonzalez in his place, and received one goal by handicap from the 26-goal Lechuza Caracas team. Both Zacara and Lechuza felt one another out in the opening minutes of the match with Polito Pieres (cousin of Zacara 10-goaler Facundo Pieres) scoring the first goal from the field just two minutes into the first chukker for a 1-1 tie. It would be almost three-and-a-half minutes later before another goal was scored as Mike Azzaro gave Zacara a 2-1 edge. Francisco Elizalde ended the chukker with a tying goal for Lechuza with 40 seconds on the clock, 2-2.

Polito Pieres scored his second goal of the match in the first 30 seconds of the second chukker to give Lechuza a 3-2 advantage. The speed of the game continued to escalate but it wasn’t until the final two minutes of the period in which Facundo Pieres converted a penalty shot for another tying goal, 3-3. Lechuza 10-goaler Juan Martin Nero got the lead back with a goal from the field in the opening minute of the third, taking the ball from one end of the field to the other for the score, 4-3. Facundo responded by taking the ball down the field to the Lechuza goal where he drove it through the goalposts on a neck shot for the goal, 4-4. Azzaro’s second goal of the game gave Zacara a 5-4 lead. With 1:39 left in the chukker, Facundo Pieres passed the ball over 100 yards down the field where Magoo Laprida took possession of it and drove it through the posts for another Zacara score and a chukker-ending 6-4 advantage.

Fourth chukker goals from Polito Pieres and Nero had it all even at 6-6, but Facundo Pieres took the lead back for Zacara on a dramatic 120 yard shot through the goal posts, 7-6. Nero tied it up again in the opening minute of the fifth on a goal from the field, 7-7. Laprida’s second goal on the day gave the lead back to Zacara, 8-7. With 2:15 left in the period, Azzaro was on the receiving end of a pass from Laprida, and carried the ball in the air through the Lechuza goal, 9-7. A penalty conversion from Polito Pieres kept Lechuza close, 9-8. Laprida scored the first goal of the final chukker after carrying it over 200 yards down the field, 10-8, but Lechuza fought back. Polito Pieres answered with a goal from the field to clos to within a goal of Zacara, 10-9. A Lechuza foul sent Facundo Pieres to the penalty line at the three minute mark where he converted the shot for a goal. Zacara had stretched its lead to two goals once again, 11-9. With two minutes left in regulation play, a Zacara player fouled, and Polito Pieres scored on the penalty shot, 11-10, but that would be where it would end. Zacara controlled the ball, for the most part, for the balance of the match, securing the victory and earning a berth in Sunday’s USPA Piaget Gold Cup finals.

Polito Pieres led all scoring with six goals. Nero added three goals and Elizalde scored once in the loss. Facundo Pieres led the Zacara attack with brilliant stickwork and four goals. Laprida and Azzaro added three goals apiece and the team received one goal by handicap.

VALIENTE 15, ALEGRIA 10
Alegria jumped out to an early lead, but fell behind, 9-4 at the end of the first half and never really threatened again in the 15-10 loss to a talent laden Valiente team in a USPA Piaget Gold Cup semifinal match at IPC. Julian Mannix scored he first goal of the game followed by a penalty conversion for a goal from Facundo Obregon. Alegria found themselves up 2-0 against 10-goalers Adolfo Cambiaso and Pelon Stirling who were attempting to defend their 2012 title. Stirling finally got Valiente on the scoreboard with less than two minutes left in the chukker, 2-1, and teammate Santi Torres scored in the final seconds of the period for the 2-2 tie.

Alegria got into foul trouble in the second chukker, with Cambiaso converting two penalty shots for goals in the opening two minutes of the period. Alegria 9-goaler Hilario Ulloa scored a goal from the field at the 4:37 mark, 4-3, but Cambiaso dazzled the crowd as he carried the ball 240 yards down the field for a score and a 5-3 lead. The Valiente pressure continued to build in the third with Alegria committing costly fouls. Valiente scored three of their four goals in the chukker on penalty conversions (two by Cambiaso and one by Torres). Team captain Bob Jornayvaz added a beautifully placed shot through the goal posts from 30 yards out as they moved out in front by five goals, 9-4. Obregon scored the only Alegria goal of the chukker on a penalty conversion. The Alegria attack turned the tables on Valiente in the fourth chukker as Valiente was the team committing the fouls and Alegria was the recipient of the penalty goals. Obregon added two more penalty goals to the Alegria total and another goal from the field. Cambiaso scored Valiente’s only goal of the chukker as they continued to lead, 10-7.

Goals from Cambiaso and Stirling helped stretch the Valiente lead to four goals in the fifth. Mariano Aguerre scored Alegria’s only goal of the chukker as they continued to trail, 12-8. The depth of the Valiente horses began to show in the final chukker of play. Two more goals from Cambiaso and a goal from Stirling sealed Alegria’s fate in the 15-10 Valiente win. Obregon scored both of Alegria’s sixth chukker goals (both from the field) and Valiente would earn the second spot in the tournament finals on Sunday. Cambiaso scored nine times for Valiente (four on penalty shots). Stirling added three goals while Torres scored twice and Jornayvaz drove home a goal for the win. Obregon scored seven times for Alegria (four on penalty shots). Mannix, Ulloa and Aguerre scored single goals in the loss.


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) / Matias Gonzalez (0)
Magoo Laprida (+8)
Mike Azzaro (+7)

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

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