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PILOT BEGINS U.S. OPEN POLO CHAMPIONSHIP® TITLE DEFENSE WITH VICTORY

Apr 01, 2021 9:51 PM

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La Indiana and Pilot played hard into overtime on Wednesday at La Indiana's field. ©Alex Pacheco
La Indiana and Pilot played hard into overtime on Wednesday at La Indiana's field. ©Alex Pacheco

Story courtesy of International Polo Club Palm Beach

Capturing the U.S. Open Polo Championship® nearly two years ago, Pilot (Curtis Pilot, Kristos ‘Keko’ Magrini*, Gonzalito Pieres, Facundo Pieres) finally began the defense of their title, and the third leg of the GAUNTLET OF POLO®, on Wednesday, March 31, travelling to the fields at La Indiana. For the second time in four games, overtime was needed, and it was Pilot that emerged the victor, defeating La Indiana (Nico Escobar*, Jeff Hall, Polito Pieres, Michael Bickford) 14-13 on a neckshot from distance by Facundo Pieres.

A match-up featuring three Pieres 10-goalers, it was brothers Facundo and Gonzalito who ultimately came out on top over Polito, thanks to accurate five for six penalty shooting in the second half. Shooting at goal more often in the first half, Pilot changed their strategy towards the end of the game, pressuring the La Indiana defense to work their way onto the penalty line. La Indiana won the battle in open play and had their opportunities to grab the victory in the thrilling final moments of the game, but after withstanding a late push by La Indiana, Pilot’s Facundo Pieres converted a neckshot for the golden goal to open their tournament with a victory.

Pilot's  Facundo Pieres leaning in for a ride-off with La Indiana's Nico Escobar. ©David Lominska
Pilot's Facundo Pieres leaning in for a ride-off with La Indiana's Nico Escobar. ©David Lominska

Just 13 seconds into play, Pilot’s Facundo Pieres drew a foul and converted the Penalty 3 attempt to open the scoring. Making an immediate impact for their respective teams, all three Pieres’ scored in the first chukker with Polito Pieres adding two goals to leave the game tied 2-all. There was little doubt about the high-level of play displayed between the two teams as they continued to battle stride-for-stride throughout the first half, beginning with Pilot taking a slim one-goal lead after finishing the second chukker with back-to-back goals from Gonzalito and Facundo Pieres. After finding early success from the field, Pilot was unable to convert any of their six shot attempts in the third chukker, opening the door for La Indiana to take the lead. Behind a balanced team attack, La Indiana scored three consecutive goals, one each from Bickford, Escobar and Pieres to retake the lead and exit the first half with a 7-5 advantage.

Pilot's Facundo Pieres watching his game-winning neckshot fall in between the posts. ©David Lominska
Pilot's Facundo Pieres watching his game-winning neckshot fall in between the posts. ©David Lominska

A lightning quick start to the second half featured Pilot’s exceptional two-man game producing four goals on perfect two for two shooting from the field and penalty line, but La Indiana was still able to hold on to their lead. Two goals and an assist from Polito Pieres kept La Indiana ahead by just one goal in an exciting stretch of seven goals in seven minutes. The offense continued to come for both teams in the high-powered match, with Pilot working their way back into a tie on a Penalty 1 and Penalty 2 conversion in the fifth chukker. A clutch Penalty 4 conversion for Facundo Pieres left two minutes for La Indiana to force overtime and fighting through the mallet of Facundo Pieres, it was Escobar who tied the game at 13-all. With time ticking down, Polito Pieres broke out of the throw-in for a breakway with a chance to win the game, but the ball went just wide as time ran out, sending the game to overtime.

Picking the ball up at half, Facundo Pieres worked the ball down to the 60-yard line just 45 seconds in and hit a neckshot that sailed just inside the post. After a review to determine whether the goal would count, the goal was confirmed and Pilot secured the thrilling 14-13 victory.

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