Facundo Sola and Pelon Stirling. Photos: Alex Pacheco.
Wellington, FL – March 28, 2015 – Coca-Cola defeated Las Monjitas 9-8 in the final seconds of the opening match of the 111th U.S. Open Polo Championship at the International Polo Club Palm Beach (IPC).
In a match fraught with tension, Coca-Cola fought nonstop for the win. Arellano, a steady hand in the Coca-Cola backfield, slammed in the game-winning goal just seconds before the final horn. It was a highly physical game throughout, with ride-off after ride-off dominated by Astrada and Arellano. All the while, Stirling’s cool, calm and collected hand on the reins kept Coca-Cola’s eyes on the prize.
Both teams leapt into action from the get-go with fast and even play that characterized the entire game. When a penalty three defended shot was called in favor of Coca-Cola, Las Monjitas seized the opportunity. Eduardo Astrada blocked the shot and took it out of the Coca-Cola goalmouth, shooting a pass to Sebastian Merlos. Merlos took the ball downfield and sent a pass to Astrada, who maneuvered the ball through two Coca-Cola defenders to score.
After heavy defensive plays by Coca-Cola and some wide shots by Las Monjitas, Julio Arellano – the high-scorer of the game with seven goals – evened the score 1-1 at the end the first chukker. Pelon Stirling struck like lightning out of the first throw-in of the second chukker, driving a goal in within the first 25 seconds. A penalty conversion by Facundo Sola tied the score again.
Astrada and Sola teamed up for Sola to tap in a goal, giving Las Monjitas a momentary lead. Arellano, a consummate gamesman, shot a pass to Sugar Erskine, who scored, retying the score. In the next play, Sola wove his way through traffic to regain the lead for Las Monjitas at the end of the second chukker.
A penalty conversion by Arellano tied the score 4-4 at the top of to the third chukker. Power plays by both teams had spectators on the edge of their seats as both teams continually fought for control of the ball. A penalty conversion by Arellano gave Coca-Cola the lead for the first time in the game. Astrada and Sola once again demonstrated their passing game, resulting in another goal for Las Monjitas. A wide penalty shot by Stirling kept the score tied going into the second half.
A string of wide shots at the start of the fourth chukker had everyone guessing as to who would be the first to score. Astrada ended up the winner, stealing the ball from Stirling to tap in a goal and make the score 6-5. Wide shots continued to plague Coca-Cola, which was scoreless in the fourth chukker. Arellano broke that streak in the next chukker, accelerating into breakaways and dodging defenders to make two consecutive goals.
With that, Coca-Cola took charge of the game, opening up the pace and making numerous attempts on goal. A turning penalty in favor of Coca-Cola was overturned after a challenge by Las Monjitas. A conversion by Arellano put Coca-Cola back in a one-point lead at the end of the fifth chukker.
Arellano took a Coca-Cola knock-in, bringing the ball back into play and sending it downfield to Stirling, who snatched it out of the air. Stirling sent the ball along to speed demon Gillian Johnston, who took it to the goalmouth. Arellano backed her up and tapped the ball in, shifting Coca-Cola into a two-point lead. Sola responded with a goal on a nearside neckshot.
Las Monjitas won yet another challenge. Sola took off and scored out of the throw-in, tying the score 8-8. Then a center hit penalty call was challenged by both teams (one on the validity of the call and the other on ball placement) but was upheld. Coca-Cola jumped on an opportunity and ran the ball through traffic. Arellano scored the game-winning goal with 29 seconds left in regulation play.
Arellano was excited and grateful about Coca-Cola’s victory. “I’m glad we were able to pull it off because a lot of times you can’t,” he said. “In the last two chukkers, Pelon said, ‘Let’s open it up’ – and it worked.”
Erskine also credited Stirling with ruling the outcome. “Pelon controlled the whole game all by himself from the back. That’s what made the difference,” he said. “We had to play a lot of defense. We knew the game was going to be like that. They played a very controlled game, so we didn’t get to run up and down the field the way we usually do.”
Stirling agreed that stepping up the pace led to Coca-Cola’s victory.
“The way we’ve been playing this season is more open polo,” he said. “During halftime I decided to tell the boys that we were kind of playing their game, and I think that made the difference in the last two chukkers. We managed to run a little bit more and get those last two plays, which gave us an advantage.”
The U.S. Open continues Sunday, March 29 with three games at IPC. Audi opposes FlexJet at 10 a.m., followed by Orchard Hill vs. Valiente at noon. Lechuza Caracas plays Alegria Assist Card in the featured match at 3 p.m. on Engel & Völkers field.
International Polo Club Palm Beach Fast Facts
What: Created by players for players, the International Polo Club Palm Beach was born out of the dream to build a facility to showcase the incredible skills of the ponies and players that dominate the sport.
Members and guests enjoy panoramic views of the action from field side box seats or lawn and terrace seating. Sponsors and fans convene at The Winners Circle to congratulate the players during the awards presentation following the games.
Gourmet brunches, après polo celebrations and the prerequisite charitable events will take place in The Pavilion, designed to accommodate large parties, corporate clients, as well as family and friends.
Herbie Pennell Cup – 20 Goal
Jan. 1-4, 2015
Joe Barry Memorial Cup – 20 Goal
Jan. 4-25, 2015
Ylvisaker Cup – 20 Goal
Jan. 28 – February 22, 2015
Iglehart Cup – 20 Goal
Feb. 28 – March 8, 2015
USPA C. V. Whitney Cup – 26 Goal
Feb. 15 – March 1, 2015
Piaget USPA Gold Cup® – 26 Goal
March 4-22, 2015
111th Maserati U.S. Open Polo Championship® – 26 Goal
March 25 – April 19, 2015
From the Turnpike:
Take the Lake Worth Exit
Head west on FL-802 W/Lake Worth Rd toward Hooks Rd
Continue to follow Lake Worth Rd (3.9 miles)
Turn right onto 120th Ave S
Destination will be ahead on the left (0.4 miles)
Exit Forest Hill Blvd, head West
Make Left turn onto 441/St Rd 7
Make Right turn onto Lake Worth Rd
Make Right turn onto 120th Ave S
Destination on Left
3667 120th Ave S, Wellington, FL 33414
International Polo Club Palm Beach: 561-204-5687
Mallet Grille: 561-282-5340
Spa & Fitness Center: 561-282-5288
Tennis Pro Shop: 561-795-7228
Polo Operations Office: 561-282-5283
Polo Hotline: 561-282-5290
Hampton Inn & Suites – (561) 472-9696 – Approximately 2 miles
Hampton Inn – (561) 472-5980 – Approximately 4 miles
Four Seasons Resort – (561) 582-2800 – Approximately 9 miles
The Breakers – (561) 655-6611 – Approximately 9 miles
Kimpton Tideline Ocean Resort & Spa – (561) 540-6440 – Approximately 9 miles
John Wash – President of Club Operations
Phelps Media Group, Inc.
12012 South Shore Blvd #105
Wellington, FL 33414