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PILOT OPEN 2021 GAUNTLET OF POLO® WITH OVERTIME VICTORY

Feb 18, 2021 12:08 PM

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Coca-Cola's Julian de Lusarreta hooking Facundo Pieres in the opening match of the C.V. Whitney Cup®. ©Alex Pacheco
Coca-Cola's Julian de Lusarreta hooking Facundo Pieres in the opening match of the C.V. Whitney Cup®. ©Alex Pacheco

Story courtesy of the International Polo Club Palm Beach

The much-anticipated debut to the 2021 GAUNTLET OF POLO® and C.V. Whitney Cup® did not disappoint in an overtime classic between Coca-Cola (Gillian Johnston, Julian de Lusarreta, Mackenzie Weisz, Nico Pieres) and Pilot (Facundo Pieres, Gonzalito Pieres, Curtis Pilot, Kristos ‘Keko’ Magrini*) on Wednesday, February 17. Facing a two-goal deficit inside the final minutes of regulation play, Pilot scored back-to-back goals to force overtime and then used a steady, determined attack in the seventh chukker to capture the thrilling 13-12 victory.

Both teams tied after four of the six chukkers, Coca-Cola and Pilot remained tight on the opening day of the C.V. Whitney Cup®. Newcomer Mackenzie Weisz worked tirelessly for Coca-Cola in an effort to slow down Pilot’s 10-goal duo, but Facundo and Gonzalito combined for 12 of their team’s 13 goals, including the overtime winning goal from Gonzalito. A high level of play was seen on both sides of the ball, including 56% shooting from the field by Pilot, setting the tone for an exciting season of 22-goal polo.

Coca-Cola's Nico Pieres focusing on the ball against Pilot. ©David Lominska
Coca-Cola's Nico Pieres focusing on the ball. ©David Lominska

Utilizing their front two players Gillian Johnston and Weisz, Coca-Cola found open runs to goal in the first chukker, receiving one goal each from Johnston and de Lusarreta to hold the 2-1 lead. Facundo and Gonzalito Pieres brought Pilot back even while an organized defense kept Coca-Cola scoreless from the field for the remainder of the half. Outscoring Coca-Cola 4-0 from the field over the second and third chukkers, Pilot had their opportunities to take the lead, but could not keep Coca-Cola off the penalty line. Three fouls resulted in three penalty goals for Coca-Cola’s Nico Pieres and de Lusarreta, leaving the score tied 5-all entering halftime.

Pilot's Gonzalito Pieres scored the overtime winning goal against Coca-Cola. ©Alex Pacheco
Pilot's Gonzalito Pieres scored the overtime winning goal against Coca-Cola. ©Alex Pacheco

A fast-paced start to the second half saw both teams produce four shots at goal in the fourth chukker, but it was Pilot that held the edge, adding a Penalty 2 conversion from Facundo Pieres. Applying pressure to the Coca-Cola defense, Facundo Pieres converted two penalty opportunities as Pilot looked to extend their lead in the fifth. However, Coca-Cola levelled the playing field once more 10-all entering the sixth chukker. De Lusarreta continued his strong play until the end of the game, contributing to all four consecutive goals that put Coca-Cola ahead by two with just minutes remaining. Relying on their skill and experience, Pilot fought back to tie, Magrini’s only goal of the match sending the game into overtime.

Starting overtime on a knock-in, Facundo and Gonzalito Pieres slowly worked the ball down the field. After conceding possession on a blocked shot, Gonzalito Pieres recovered and from distance, secured the golden goal with a 13-12 victory for Pilot.

*Kristos Magrini is an Active 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.

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