Sep 30, 2019 4:33 PM
A rematch of the previous game, White Birch (Chris Brant, Joaquin Panelo, Matias Magrini, Lucas Escobar) faced Orchard Hill (Steve Van Andel, Chris Stratemann, Manuel Crespo, Felipe Marquez) in the Kentucky Classic Final on Sunday, September 29, at Mt. Brilliant Polo Club in Lexington, Kentucky. A thrilling sixth chukker overthrow from Orchard Hill, scoring four unanswered goals, resulted in a memorable 13-12 victory, putting an end to White Birch’s undefeated run in the tournament.
“It was certainly a tough game. White Birch is a great team and they beat us two days before, so we were coming back to try and even the score. We just kept going so I’m happy to wrap up this season with a win!” – Steve Van Andel
Entering the final with a flawless 4-0 record, White Birch asserted strong offense early in the game but were matched almost stride for stride by Orchard Hill in the first half. A penalty conversion from Panelo opened the scoring, however Orchard Hill responded with a field goal from Crespo. Paced by the duo of Panelo and Magrini, White Birch extended their lead to two in the second, pressuring the Orchard Hill offense to score one goal from the penalty line and two from the field, resulting in a 5-3 lead in favor of White Birch. Competing for the second consecutive game, Orchard Hill and White Birch’s familiarity with each other led to a tightly marked contest that was displayed in a foul ridden third chukker, resulting in three penalty conversions. White Birch gained the slight advantage behind the penalty accuracy of Panelo, his four first half penalty goals maintaining White Birch’s two-goal lead to end the half 7-5.
Unwilling to concede an inch on the field, Orchard Hill began the second half with a run of three consecutive goals, all off the mallet of Crespo, to quickly erase the two-goal deficit and claim their first lead of the game. With the outcome to be determined from the penalty line, White Birch’s Panelo responded with two penalty goals of his own to reclaim the lead, matching Crespo’s impressive seven goal total. Just two chukkers away from a perfect tournament record, White Birch made a strong attack in a dominant fifth period to push their lead to three after two more penalty conversions from Panelo. Just minutes away from the title headed into the final chukker, White Birch faced an Orchard Hill team unwilling to concede defeat, fighting until the final seconds. In quick succession, Crespo scored his ninth and tenth goals of the game pulling Orchard Hill within one 11-12. Marquez came forward to score his first goal of the game after a strong defensive showing, equalizing the score and treating spectators to a thrilling conclusion. Before time expired, Orchard Hill completed the impressive comeback on a penalty conversion from Crespo to outscore White Birch 4-0 in the sixth and capture the Kentucky Classic title in a 13-12 victory.
Revaluating their strategy after falling to the undefeated team on Friday, September 27, Orchard Hill made the adjustments necessary in strategic preparation for the final. “Steve [Van Andel] went further forward in attack, so we had more space for Manuel [Crespo] to make plays,” Marquez revealed. “Chris [Stratemann], great in defense, stayed as a back, and Manuel and I tried to take more control of the ball, only releasing it when we had the right play.”
“Thanks to our coach Lucas Criado we all knew what we had to do, and we were able to win in the last chukker,” Marquez continued. “Manuel Crespo had a great game, and that was key to our victory.”
Orchard Hill’s Manuel Crespo was named Most Valuable Player, scoring an impressive 11 goals on the day. “Manuel Crespo came in to replace Lucas Criado who was injured and we all had fun together both on and off the field,” said Chris Stratemann, Orchard Hill team manager. “This win is the end of a really good summer.”
Best Playing Pony honors were presented to Medina (Asamblea x Espacial), played by Felipe Marquez in the second and sixth chukkers. “I have to thank Pipe [Felipe] Vercellino for the horses,” Marquez said. Filling in for Vercellino after he was sidelined by an injury in the Pacific Coast Open, Vercellino offered Marquez his horses to compete. “We knew each other for a couple years in Argentina, but we became close friends this year in Santa Barbara.”
Retiring Orchard Hill from high-goal after the U.S. Open Polo Championship™ in 2017, team owner Steve Van Andel enjoyed the opportunity to play at the 14-goal level. “I’ve continued playing polo but it’s all been lower goal polo,” Van Andel commented. “I thoroughly enjoy playing lower goal, but thought it would be fun to step it up a notch. I had a great time in Lexington!”
Effective Date: Saturday, May 16, 2020
The suspension of USPA Tournaments and Events will be lifted for USPA Member Clubs in locales where hosting polo matches and tournaments is permitted under applicable state and local laws, executive orders and similar decrees. The USPA Member Clubs in these locales are encouraged to follow all such requirements of their state and local authorities with respect to polo operations. In addition, we also encourage all USPA Member Clubs to take the precautions recommended by the CDC. We are preparing a detailed list of best practices for USPA Member Clubs as they return to hosting USPA Tournaments and Events and plan to circulate these guidelines within the next week. We will continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation closely and will notify you if we determine a different course of action is necessary.Read More