By Alex Webbe
Three weeks and 16 games later Orchard Hill (Steve Van Andel, Gallego Ferrario, Polito Pieres and Facundo Pieres) will face Valiente (Bob Jornayvaz, Guillermo Terrera, Alejo Taranco and Adolfo Cambiaso) in the 2015 United States Open Championship final at the International Polo Club on Sunday, April 19th.
Both Orchard Hill and Valiente recorded wins in Wednesday afternoon action with Orchard Hill defeating Coca-Cola (Gillian Johnston, Sugar Erskine, Pelon Stirling and Julio Arellano) 12-8 while Valiente needed a sudden-death overtime period to steal the game from Audi (Marc Ganzi, Rodrigo Andrade, Gonzalito Pieres and Fred Mannix), 11-10.
In the first semifinal match of the day it was Coca-Cola’s Sugar Erskine who got on the scoreboard first on the scoring end of a pass from team captain Gillian Johnston after nearly three minutes of play, 1-0. Polito Pieres responded with a goal from Orchard Hill a minute later and teammate Facundo Pieres converted on a 30-yard penalty shot at the 2:48 mark for the early 2-1 lead.
Second period action had Coca-Cola getting more and more aggressive. Ferrario scored in the first 30 seconds of play to give Orchard Hill a 3-1 edge. Ensuing goals from 10-goaler Pelon Stirling and teammate Julio Arellano (a 30-yard penalty shot) had it all even at 3-3. Facundo Pieres scored the final goal of the chukker to give Orchard Hill the 5-4 edge at the end of the chukker.
Facundo Pieres opened the third period by carrying a penalty shot through the defenders and through the goalposts for a two goal, 5-3 lead. Julio Arellano kept Coca-Cola in the thick of it with a 30-yard penalty conversion. The first half ended with Orchard Hill holding on to a narrow 5-4 advantage.
An Orchard Hill foul in the opening seconds of the fourth period sent Arellano to the penalty line where he converted a 60-yard shot for a goal, tying the score at 5-5. Facundo Pieres responded two minutes later with a 30-yard penalty goal of his own and followed it up with a goal from the field, putting Orchard Hill in front by two goals, 7-5.
Orchard Hill took complete control of the game in the fifth chukker with Polito Pieres scoring three consecutive goals from the field, 10-5. Facundo Pieres scored the final goal of the period on a 60-yard penalty shot. The Coca-Cola offense was unable to mount an effective attack and was held scoreless. At the end of the period, Orchard Hill rode off the field with an 11-5 lead.
Consecutive penalty conversions by Arellano gave Coca-Cola a brief spark of life, cutting the Orchard Hill lead to four goals, 11-7. Ferrario carried the ball half the length of the field for an Orchard Hill goal, 12-7. Arellano scored his final goal of the match with 1:05 left on the clock in the 12-8 Orchard Hill victory.
Facundo Pieres led the Orchard Hill attack with six goals (three on penalty shots). Polito Pieres scored four times and Ferrario added two goals for the win. Arellano scored five of his team-high six goals on penalty shots. Sugar Erskine and Sterling each added a goal in the loss. The victory returns Orchard Hill to the US Open final for the first time since 2006.
Valiente was looking for another trip to the US Open final, an opportunity that they had experienced in 2013 and 2014 (losing both times), but a strong Audi team had other ideas. Valiente had struggled with both their new lineup and injuries, losing the services of Adolfo Cambiaso in the early going and later team captain bob Jornayvaz. A disappointing appearance in the C. V. Whitney Cup and a lackluster showing in the Piaget Gold Cup weren’t promising signs, but with the original team back together for the first time in weeks, Valiente was prepared to soldier on.
Alejo Taranco scored the first goal of the game in the opening minute of play when Audi unleashed the strength of their attack. Three consecutive goals from Gonzalito Pieres (two on penalty shots) had Valiente trailing, 3-1. Adolfo Cambiaso scored the final goal of the chukker with 58 seconds on the clock, but it was Audi who left the field with the lead, 3-2.
Fred Mannix scored his first goal of the game as the second chukker got underway, 4-2, and Pieres added another 30-yard penalty shot for a 5-2 Audi lead. Another goal from Mannix extended the Audi lead to four goals, 6-2, before Valiente could answer back. A goal from Cambiaso with 1:48 on the clock, 6-4, was followed by a Penalty 1 assessed against Audi, giving another goal to a surging Valiente attack. Cambiaso added one more goal to the Valiente total with 41 seconds on the clock and at the end of the second chukker Valiente had nearly caught up to Audi, trailing by a single goal, 6-5.
Both defenses stepped it up in the third, and scoring was at a premium. Both teams missed shots and scoring opportunities, but the offenses were limited. A late Audi foul sent Cambiaso to the penalty line with 35 seconds left in the chukker where he converted another 60-yard penalty shot for the tying goal, 6-6, to end the first half.
Cambiaso scored the first goal of the second half in the opening minute of play for a 7-6 Valiente lead. Pieres countered for Audi by scoring on a 0-yard penalty shot that leveled the score at 7-7. Both defenses showed their muscle for the balance of the period and the chukker ended with no further scoring.
Pieres put Audi into the lead at 6:40 of the fifth period as Valiente seemed to struggle to stay with them. A 60-yard penalty conversion from Cambiaso came with 2:20 left on the clock to tie it at 8-8. Cambiaso added another goal from the field a minute later and Valiente left the field with a fragile 9-8 edge.
Sixth chukker play had Valiente putting up a strong defensive front in the opening minutes of the period, but Pieres slipped the ball through the goalposts at the 4:14 mark for a 9-9 tie. Cambiaso took advantage of an Audi foul with 1:16 left in the chukker, converting a penalty shot from 40-yards out for a 10-9 Valiente lead. With time running out, Pieres found his way through the Valiente defense to score the final goal of the chukker, 10-10, and force the seventh sudden-death overtime period of the tournament.
After a brief recess both teams returned to the field with a frantic struggled for control of the ball. In a game that seemed would never end, Taranco took control of the ball and carried it over 150 yards down the field for the winning goal one minute and forty-seven seconds into overtime.
Valiente had won and would be returning to the US Open final for the third time in three years. Audi would have to console themselves with the 2015 USPA Piaget Gold Cup.
A seemingly healthy Cambiaso had returned to the field for Valiente, leading the team with eight goals on the day (four on penalty conversions). Taranco added two goals and Valiente received one goal on a Penalty 1. Pieres led the Audi attack with eight goals of his won (half on penalty shots). Mannix added the other two goals in a heartbreaking loss.
The Valiente win sets up Sunday’s US Open final with Orchard Hill, a team that has eaten Valiente twice in earlier meetings. Orchard Hill beat Valiente 11-8 in the opening 26-goal game of the season, the C. V. Whitney Cup, and beat them in their second meeting in Gold cup play, 14-12.
This will be Orchard Hill’s fourth US Open final appearance having lost in the final in 2001, 2002 and 2006. Valiente will be making their third US Open final, having lost in 2013 and 2014. At the end of the day on Sunday afternoon, one thing is certain. Either Orchard Hill or Valiente will have won their first US Open Championship.