Apr 05, 2021 3:48 PM

Cessna's Ezequiel Martinez Ferrario gaining possession on U.S. Polo Assn - Field 1. ©David Lominska
Cessna's Ezequiel Martinez Ferrario gaining possession on U.S. Polo Assn. Field 1. ©David Lominska

Story courtesy of International Polo Club Palm Beach

Two games in the 2021 U.S. Open Polo Championship® highlighted Easter Sunday, April 4, at the International Polo Club Palm Beach (Wellington, Florida), beginning with Pilot (Curtis Pilot, Kristos ‘Keko’ Magrini*, Gonzalito Pieres, Facundo Pieres) producing a sixth chukker comeback to defeat Santa Clara (Will Johnston, Felipe Vercellino, Miguel Novillo Astrada, Luis Escobar) 13-12. In the feature game of the week on the U.S. Polo Assn. Field 1, Tonkawa (Jeff Hildebrand, Lucas Escobar*, Sapo Caset, Francisco Elizalde) faced a difficult challenge from Cessna (Camp Campbell, Ezequiel Martinez Ferrario, Mariano Obregon Jr., Jared Zenni*) but scored five of the final six goals in the game to secure the 14-12 victory and join Pilot with a 2-0 record.

An exciting opening game at Valiente came down to the final seconds between Pilot and Santa Clara, with Facundo Pieres completing one of the performances of the season, scoring 10 goals including the game-winning penalty conversion while also adding three assists to contribute on all 13 Pilot goals. Santa Clara produced one of their strongest showings of the season, converting 67% of their shots from the field and all four penalties attempts in an efficient performance, but sixth chukker foul trouble ultimately allowed Pilot to grab the lead inside the final minute to remain undefeated with the 13-12 victory.

Pilot's Gonzalito Pieres running to goal with the ball. ©Alex Pacheco
Pilot's Gonzalito Pieres running to goal with the ball. ©Alex Pacheco

Winning the open throw-in, Astrada found Vercellino to score on the first play of the game, giving Santa Clara the quick 1-0 lead. Pilot reorganized and controlled the remainder of the first chukker, led by Facundo Pieres’ field goal, assist and penalty conversion from over 80 yards away to give his team the 3-2 lead. Despite being heavily outshot 13 to three in the first half, Santa Clara was able to keep pace with Pilot due to the accurate penalty shooting of Vercellino, who finished a perfect four for four from the penalty line. Converting just two of their final eight shot attempts in the half, Pilot continued to work their two-man game with Facundo and Gonzalito Pieres but were unable to pull away by halftime, tied at 7-all.

Pilot’s shooting struggles carried into the second half as they were held without a field goal in the fourth and fifth chukker, including some crucial blocks in front of goal by the Santa Clara defense as they stood tall against the pressure of Pilot’s attack. One goal each from Vercellino and Johnston, along with assists from Astrada and Escobar in the fourth chukker highlighted the complete Santa Clara team performance that pushed them into the narrow one-goal lead. Transitioning from passing to scoring, Astrada and Escobar each took advantage of their one opportunity at goal to extend their lead to two and leave Pilot in danger of their first loss of the tournament. Trading goals in the opening moments of the sixth chukker, time was running out for Pilot but Facundo Pieres scored back-to-back goals, leaving the score tied 12-all. With one minute left, Vercellino got caught on an uneven ride-off, sending Pieres to the penalty line for a chance to win the game, and he sent the ball through the posts to complete the hard-fought 13-12 victory.

A second comeback was seen in the feature game of the week as Tonkawa fought back from two goals down in the fifth chukker to remain undefeated. An efficient game on both sides of the ball resulted in 56% and 63% shooting from the field respectively for Tonkawa and Cessna, with the difference ultimately coming down to the penalty line, where Tonkawa’s Caset converted four of his five penalty attempts. In a game that was tied on five different occasions, Caset proved why he was the scoring leader in the GAUNTLET OF POLO®, scoring 10 goals in the narrow victory as the teams turn their attention to the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open Polo Championship®.

Tonkawa's Sapo Caset led all players with 10 goals in the victory over Cessna. ©David Lominska
Tonkawa's Sapo Caset led all players with 10 goals in the victory over Cessna. ©David Lominska

Early pressure from Tonkawa forced Cessna into two early fouls and a Penalty 3 conversion for Caset that was quickly followed by a goal from the field on the following play. Withstanding the initial surge from Tonkawa, Cessna responded with Zenni effectively manning the back of the game and assisting on two goals as part of a three-goal run for Cessna that gave them the 3-2 lead. Carrying that strategy into the second chukker, Zenni’s third assist of the game resulted in a goal for Obregon Jr. and a two-goal advantage for Cessna. Ferrario’s second goal ended a three-goal run for Cessna, but wanting to avoid a deficit at halftime, Caset took over, scoring four goals on two penalty conversions and perfect shooting from the field to turn a three-goal deficit into a two-goal leader in matter of minutes.

Cessna exited the tent refocusing on a four-man attack that led to instant success to begin the second half. Camp Campbell led the way with two goals at the front of the game as Cessna shot at goal eight times in the fourth chukker alone to retake the lead at 11-9. The back-and-forth game saw its fifth tie as Tonkawa worked its way back even at 11-all, receiving one goal each from Escobar and Hildebrand in a crucial chukker that left the two teams deadlocked entering the final seven minutes. Tonkawa struck first with Elizalde setting up Caset and then following up with a goal of his own to build a two-goal lead. Obregon Jr.’s fifth goal of the game cut the lead in half, but it was as close as Cessna could come as Caset’s tenth goal sealed the 14-12 victory for Tonkawa.

Cessna's Camp Campbell captured Most Valuable Player, scoring three goals. ©David Lominska
Cessna's Camp Campbell captured Most Valuable Player, scoring three goals. ©David Lominska

Cessna’s Camp Campbell was awarded Most Valuable Player, finishing with three goals, while Sapo Caset’s Machitos Francisca captured Best Playing Pony honors. The final game of round two in the U.S. Open Polo Championship® is Monday at 4:00pm ET as Coca-Cola takes on Scone.

*Kristos Magrini and Lucas Escoba are Active Team USPA Members. Jared Zenni is a Graduating Team USPA Member. 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.