By Alex Webbe
Orchard Hill (Polito Pieres, Juan Chavanne, Facundo Pieres and Steve Van Andel) earned the right to defend their 2016 United States Open Championship but it took an overtime chukker and a golden goal from Argentine 10-goaler Facundo Pieres to shatter the hopes of a competitive Flexjet lineup (Melissa Ganzi, Rodrigo Andrade, Gonzalito Pieres and Nico Pieres) to do it Wednesday afternoon in tournament semifinal action at the International Polo Club.
Flexjet got off on the right foot with two first chukker goals from Nico Pieres while shutting out a potent Orchard Hill attack. After the opening chukker it was Flexjet with the 2-0 lead.
Rodrigo Andrade made it 3-0 with his first goal of the day as Orchard Hill struggled to find an offensive rhythm. Juan Chavanne finally got Orchard Hill on the scoreboard with a goal from the field in the last minute of the second chukker. A confident Flexjet rode off the field after the first two periods on top of a 3-1 score.
Facundo Pieres finally broke through the Flexjet defenders midway through the third chukker, scoring his first goal of the game and cutting the lead down to a single goal, 3-2. An Orchard Hill miscue resulted in a penalty shot for Flexjet. With just 35 seconds left the period, Gonzalito Pieres converted from 30-yards out for a 4-2 halftime lead.
The Orchard Hill attack continued to search for an answer as Flexjet impressed on both offense and defense. Gonzalito Pieres scored the first goal of the second half to move his team ahead buy three goals, 5-2. Facundo Pieres took control of the ensuing throw-in, however, and raced down the field for the only other goal of the chukker. Flexjet continued to control the game and held on to a two-goal lead, 5-3.
A refocused Orchard Hill took the field in the fifth and went right to work. Facundo Pieres opened the period with short penalty conversion for a goal, 5-4, and followed it up with an 80-yard neck-shot less than a minute later that tied the game at 5-5. Facundo Pieres gave Orchard Hill their first lead of the day with is third consecutive goal at the 5:51 mark, but Flexjet wasn’t ready to give up. Andrade took advantage of a bad knock-in by Orchard Hill, taking control of the ball and knotting the score at 6-6. A final run at the Orchard Hill resulted in a last second score by Nico Pieres that put Flexjet back into the lead, 7-6.
Two minutes into the sixth chukker Facundo Pieres took advantage of a Flexjet foul and sent the ball through the goalposts from 30-yards out to tie the game at 7-7. Facundo Pieres continued to control the pace of the game, adding another penalty goal and a goal from the field. With just 3:15 left in regulation play, Orchard Hill held a two-goal advantage over Flexjet, 9-7. Andrade cut into the Orchard Hill lead with his third goal of the game, 9-8, and an Orchard Hill foul saw Gonzalito Pieres level the score at 9-9 with a 30-yard penalty shot with 1:17 on the game clock. With neither team able to add another goal in regulation time, the horn sounded and both teams prepared for a sudden-death overtime chukker.
After a brief intermission, both teams returned to the field with fresh mounts and play resumed. Flexjet got the first break in the overtime action, with an Orchard Hill foul sent Gonzalito Pieres to the penalty line where a 60-yard shot went just wide. With over two minutes gone, the ball bounced over the sideboards and the teams lined up for a throw-in. Facundo Pieres took control of the ball and headed for the Flexjet goal with everyone in pursuit. At the 2:33 mark, Facundo Pieres stroked the ball through the Flexjet goalposts for the 10-9 win and a return to the US Open final.
Facundo Pieres led all scoring with eight goals (three on penalty conversions). Teammates Chavanne and Polito Pieres each added a gal for the win. A balanced Flexjet attack saw Andrade, Gonzalito Pieres and Nico Pieres score three goals apiece in the loss.
Valiente 16, Travieso 6
The Cinderella story ended for Teo Calle’s Travieso polo team (Teo Calle, Alfredo Capella, Sebastian Merlos and Mariano Gonzalez) in the second US Open semifinal of the day with Valiente (Bob Jornayvaz, Matias Torres Zavaleta, Diego Cavanagh and Adolfo Cambiaso) punishing them in a 16-6 romp.
Out-gunned and out-horsed, Travieso fell behind 9-3 at the end of the first half and watched Valiente crush them in a 16-6 romp.
Valiente jumped out to a 3-0 start with an opening goal from Diego Cavanagh and a pair of well-executed scores from Adolfo Cambiaso. Travieso was held scoreless and trailed from the opening throw-in.
Cavanagh scored three more goals in the second (two on penalty conversions) while Travieso managed to get a pair of goals from Mariano Gonzalez. The Valiente lead expanded to four goals, 6-2.
Single goals in the third from Cavanagh and Matias Torres Zavaleta were countered by a 30-yard penalty conversion from Gonzalez. Valiente remained in complete control of the game after the first three chukkers, 9-3.
The pace continued at break-neck speed in second half action, with Cambiaso taking long shots at goal while Travieso fought to keep the score respectable. Zavaleta and Cambiaso added single goals in the fourth while Travieso team captain, Teo Calle, answered with his team’s only goal of the chukker. The Valiente lead had grown tow seven goals, 11-4.
Cavanagh’s eighth goal of the game stretched the Valiente lead to eight goals, 12-4, before Travieso got on to the scoreboard again. Travieso had to settle for a 60-yard penalty goal from Gonzalez, with Valiente holding on to a seven-goal advantage, 12-5.
There didn’t seem to be any reason for the Valiente attack to slow down in the final chukker, and they didn’t. A goal from Cavanagh was followed by back-to-back goals from Zavaleta (the second coming on a 110-yard pass from Cambiaso) as the lead grew to ten goals, 15-5. Cambiaso added his fifth goal of the day, 16-5 with three minutes left in regulation play. Sebastian Merlos scored the final goal of the afternoon for Travieso, but an impressive performance by the Valiente attack made them Sunday’s favorite in the 2017 US Open final at the International Polo Club.
Cavanagh scored seven goals on the day (three on penalty shots). Cambiaso added five goals and Zavaleta was credited with four goals for the win. Gonzalez scored three of his team-high four goals on penalty conversions. Calle and Merlos added single goals in the loss.
Photos by Alex Pacheco