Apr 12, 2021 2:19 PM

Coca-Cola's Julian de Lusarreta and La Indiana's Jeff Hall battling for position to reach the ball. ©David Lominska
Coca-Cola's Julian de Lusarreta and La Indiana's Jeff Hall battling for position to reach the ball. ©David Lominska

Story courtesy of International Polo Club Palm Beach

The first day of quarterfinal action in the 2021 U.S. Open Polo Championship® resulted in the first two semifinalists being determined as La Indiana (Nico Escobar*, Jeff Hall, Polito Pieres, Michael Bickford) dominated the second half to defeat Coca-Cola (Gillian Johnston, Mackenzie Weisz, Nico Pieres, Julian de Lusarreta) 15-10, while Park Place (Andrey Borodin, Juan Britos, Hilario Ulloa, Matt Coppola*) captured the 13-10 victory over Cessna (Camp Campbell, Ezequiel Martinez, Mariano Obregon Jr., Jared Zenni*, sub. Felipe Vercellino).

Showcasing one of the top performances of the season, La Indiana’s Pieres finished with 11 goals and three assists on 70% shooting from the field and 80% shooting from the penalty line to overwhelm Coca-Cola in the second half of the game. After a consistent attack in the first half, Coca-Cola’s inaccuracy around goal was a factor in the final stages of the game, unable to keep pace with the highest scoring team in the GAUNTLET OF POLO®. La Indiana survived some foul trouble, conceding mostly spot penalties and using a determined defense to hold off Coca-Cola in the 15-10 victory.

La Indiana's Polito Pieres finished with a game-high 11 goals in the victory. ©David Lominska
La Indiana's Polito Pieres finished with a game-high 11 goals in the quarterfinal victory. ©David Lominska

The highly anticipated start to the quarterfinals began with Polito and Nico Pieres trading goals for their respective teams as La Indiana and Coca-Cola sized each other up in what was proving to be an evenly-matched game. Momentum swung back and forth throughout the first half with Polito Pieres continuing to pace the La Indiana offense. Polito Pieres accounted for all four of his team’s goals through two chukkers, while Coca-Cola produced a balanced attack, resulting in a tied 4-all score after field goals from de Lusarreta and Weisz. After Polito Pieres’ fifth goal, it was Escobar that added his name to the scoresheet, ending the half with his first goal to give La Indiana the narrow 6-5 advantage.

Weisz opened the second half with a goal for Coca-Cola, tying the score for an incredible sixth time in the 6-all game. However, Polito Pieres once again pushed his team into the lead, scoring two goals and adding an assist as part of a three-goal chukker for La Indiana. Coca-Cola’s ability to keep pace with La Indiana faltered in the fifth chukker when they missed all five shot attempts from the field, leaving the ball in the goal mouth on a couple of attempts, opening the door for La Indiana to pull ahead by more than one.

A Penalty 6 safety conversion for Polito Pieres followed by a Penalty 1 awarded to Escobar left La Indiana with a three-goal lead and one chukker between them and a place in the semifinals. Racing out of the fifth chukker break, La Indiana scored three goals in quick succession, two from Polito Pieres to complete a five-goal run and put the game out of reach for Coca-Cola. The impressive 11 goal performance from Pieres led La Indiana to the 15-10 victory and the first spot in the semifinals.

Park Place's Hilario Ulloa closely followed by Cessna's substitute Felipe Vercellino. ©Alex Pacheco
Park Place's Hilario Ulloa closely followed by Cessna substitute Felipe Vercellino. ©Alex Pacheco

Leading from start to finish in the second quarterfinal, Park Place relied on their duo of Ulloa and Britos, while shooting an accurate 10 for 16 from the field as Cessna fought hard to overcome the loss of Ferrario in the third chukker. The efficiency of the Park Place attack combined with their control of possession kept Cessna outside of reach in a game that was ultimately decided in open play with few penalty shots between the two teams. Vercellino tried to provide a spark in place of the injured Ferrario but was unable to help Cessna close the gap in the 13-10 defeat.

Forcing a turnover in the opening seconds, Britos ran straight to goal from midfield, displaying exceptional horsepower to open the scoring just 30 seconds into the game for Park Place. A Penalty 2 conversion for Ulloa and another field goal for Britos highlighted a strong start for Park Place, resulting in a 3-1 lead at the end of the first chukker.

Using the pass to attack the Cessna goal, Park Place extended their lead further in the second chukker, securing field goals from Ulloa and Borodin, as Cessna saw the gap widen. With Coppola effectively manning the back of the game, Ulloa and Britos completed a well-played first half, limiting Cessna to just four goals and holding the 8-4 lead entering halftime.

Out of the game due to injury, Ferrario was replaced by Vercellino and despite not scoring in the fourth chukker, he had a positive impact on Cessna as they began to fight their way back into the game. Holding Park Place without a field goal, Cessna shot a perfect two for two from the field while adding a Penalty 2 conversion to cut the lead in half and increase the tension on the field with two chukkers remaining.

Cessna's Mariano Obregon Jr. hooking the nearside backshot from Park Place's Juan Britos. ©David Lominska
Cessna's Mariano Obregon Jr. hooking the nearside backshot from Park Place's Juan Britos. ©David Lominska

Maintaining their composure, Park Place provided a swift response in the fifth chukker, restoring their lead back to four on back-to-back goals from Britos and Ulloa. Cessna continued to try and push forward but were met with a response by Park Place each step of the way, never getting closer than three goals the rest of the way as Park Place secured the 13-10 victory.

With the victories, La Indiana and Park Place reach their third consecutive semifinal in the GAUNTLET OF POLO® and await the results of the remaining two quarterfinals at the International Polo Club Palm Beach.

*Nico Escobar is an Active Team USPA Members. Jared Zenni and Matt Coppola are Graduating Team USPA Members. Team USPA is a USPA program designed to enhance and grow the sport of polo in the United States by identifying young, talented American players and providing mentored training and playing opportunities leading to a pool of higher rated amateur and pro players and the resultant giveback to the sport of polo.