Wellington, Florida – April 5, 2015 – Coca-Cola defeated Valiente 12-11 in overtime Sunday in the 111th U.S. Open Polo Championship on Engel & Völkers field at the International Polo Club Palm Beach (IPC). Sugar Erskine was named MVP, and Best-Playing Pony went to Renato, played by Pelon Stirling. Earlier in the day, Las Monjitas defeated Orchard Hill 14-13.
If there is one axiom that has emerged from this year’s 26-goal season at IPC, it is this: Never underestimate Coca-Cola.
As it has done time and time again, the team pulled a rabbit out of its hat Sunday. Just when it looked like Coca-Cola was about to lose to Valiente by a point, Sugar Erskine – ever the wild card – smacked in a goal, tying the game 12-all in the last microsecond (literally) of regulation play.
Then to top it off, along came the day’s high-scorer, Julio Arellano, whose seventh goal sealed the deal in overtime for the team in red.
Chance turned out to be the hallmark of the game, and Coca-Cola capitalized on it at every opportunity. “It was amazing the way we tied it up in the last chukker with .001 left,” said a stunned 10-goaler Pelon Stirling. “We took a chance, and we had it. Then we took a chance in OT, and again! It was a very good win for us. It’s looking good.”
Despite its undefeated record in the 111th Open, Coca-Cola seemed to have taken even itself by a bit of surprise Sunday. “We knew it was going to be extremely tough because they have an all-pro team,” said Arellano. “We were able to keep them close the whole time, and then it’s anybody’s game.”
Indeed, the celebration could just as easily have ended up in Valiente’s tent, as it has so many times before. But Arellano’s troupe refused to stop tap dancing until the last note of music lilted away into the ether. In polo’s version of the “hail Mary pass” made famous in the 1975 NFL playoffs, Arellano, in a leap of faith, hurtled the ball downfield to a waiting Gillian Johnston. “I knew I had to get the ball there fast because I would have only one chance,” said Arellano.
Ditto for Johnston, who took the pass and went to town with one of her trademark slapstick dashes toward goal. Things were looking golden for Coca-Cola, but just yards from the goalmouth the ball went wonky and pulled loose, triggering a free-for-all and drawing a screeching whistle. Having already used its second-half challenge, Valiente could not contest the foul.
Arellano and Pelon Stirling painstakingly teed up the ball as they stared down, methodically circling it like a hawk hovering over prey. Then they looked up and locked eyes. Stirling moved away, leaving Arellano to finish the job.
Although Coca-Cola got the win, it didn’t get there the way it had envisioned. In a departure from its game plan in previous matches, the day’s strategy was for her teammates to feed the ball to Johnston, the indomitable winner of the 2002 U.S. Open. But as the saying goes, the best-laid plans of mice and men often go astray.
“We spoke about doing something different, but we didn’t do anything like what we spoke about,” said Erskine. “We were going to push Gillian all day, and for some reason we never got her the ball. Finally she got the chance to put in the winning goal, and that was sort of the idea, but things just didn’t go that way.”
To her credit, Johnston sunk an astounding goal in the pivotal sixth chukker, which saw a lot of play through midfield. Erskine had battled the ball out of a scuffle and handed it over to Stirling, who, with the precision of a Swiss timepiece, sent it sailing downfield with a power hit to Johnston. With just under three minutes on the clock, she tied the game 10-all.
Matching its strong performance in the fifth chukker, Valiente kept rocking in the sixth, again answering every Coca-Cola goal. Alejo Taranco pulled Valiente into a slim lead, and from there the score followed a breathtaking back-and-forth trajectory all the way to the final horn.
Taranco’s tie-breaking goal sprouted from a bouquet of three: him, Sapo Caset and Tommy Beresford. After winning the knock-in, Caset initiated a long trek toward goal. He and Guillermo Terrera kept swapping the ball, playing an extended game of cat and mouse with Erskine, who was all over them. As they soon discovered, that was a dangerous game to play with an opponent as stealthy as Erskine. He drew gasps from the Valiente contingent on the sidelines more than once when he stole the ball, only to have the Caset-Terrera force swipe it right back.
At one point, Valiente played an effective mind game with Coca-Cola, as 10-goaler Caset took out the defender to allow 2-goaler Tommy Beresford to run with the play. Eighteen-year-old Beresford, who had subbed in and was playing the first full 26-goal game of his life, did his job handily. He escorted the ball toward goal, handing it over to Taranco at the perfect moment. Backed up nicely by his teammates, Taranco put it in.
All in all the game was a commendable effort by Valiente, which showed its mettle against all odds. Last week, when half of the team (Adolfo Cambiaso and Bob Jornayvaz) had to be subbed out due to injuries, Caset commented, “It’s like a totally new team” – never an easy form to morph into, particularly smack in the midst of the most prestigious tournament of the season
Las Monjitas Pulls Off 14-13 Upset
Las Monjitas defeated Orchard Hill 14-13 in bracket play at the International Polo Club Palm Beach.
Las Monjitas took on Orchard Hill in a game that was seemingly a David and Goliath story. Orchard Hill, a favorite due to their recent stellar performances and the advantage of having not one but two Pieres, started out the game strongly, but ultimately Las Monjitas created a hot streak that was unstoppable, even for the mighty Orchard Hill squad.
The sixth chukker was dominated by Las Monjitas from start to finish, with Sola chalking up three goals to overtake Orchard Hill 13-12. After a throw-in resulting from a buried ball, Astrada rocketed towards the goal to score. In the final minute of the match, Facundo Pieres scored but it was too little, too late. Astrada rode toward the end zone with both arms raised while the match was still going, celebrating the upset and reveling in the cheers from the Las Monjitas camp. The final score was 14-13. The joy from the entire Las Monjitas team, family members and staff was audible as cheers erupted and the team members made their way back to their tent, stopping to receive congratulations from their supporters.
Astrada credited the team’s performance in specific parts of the match for their win.
“I think we played very well in the first chukker and in the fifth and sixth chukker,” said Astrada. “We played really well like we have to play, and how we can play.”
Merlos felt like this was a turnaround from the rest of the season for Las Monjitas.
“It was the opposite of what has been happening the whole season for us,” said Merlos.
The Pieres cousins immediately went to work at the start of the game with Facundo Pieres shooting a pass to Polito Pieres, who tapped it in for a goal in his signature style. A penalty one in the next play gave Orchard Hill a 2-0 lead briefly, but Facundo Sola completed a penalty conversion to put Las Monjitas on the board. A penalty two from point blank range by Facundo Pieres ended the first chukker 3-1.
Eduardo Astrada started out the second chukker with a bang, making a backshot that went wide of the goal by inches. The tension continued to mount as Polito Pieres and Astrada continued in very physical rideoffs, making big bumps in an effort to keep the other out of the play. Sola, whose penalty conversions would be key to the Las Monjitas effort, converted with a lofted shot to bring Las Monjitas within one, but two subsequent penalty conversions by Facundo Pieres pulled Orchard Hill back into the lead 5-2. A goal by Ezequiel Ferrario gave Orchard Hill a solid lead heading into the third chukker.
Penalty shots continued to have a strong effect on the match as Sola converted two penalties to make the score 6-4. In the next play, Sola won the ball out of the throw-in and made a long pass to Astrada, who scored Las Monjitas’ first goal from the field. Polito Pieres proved just how handy he and his horses are by turning the ball, running and firing off a shot in mere seconds to make the score 7-5 at the half.
The second half proved to be just as physical as the first, with Las Monjitas working to slow down the Orchard Hill speed game. A conversion by Facundo Pieres gave Orchard Hill a three point lead, but Las Monjitas fired back with a goal by Sola, whose powerful performance thus far this season has many wondering if his rating of eight goals will remain after the season ends. Facundo Pieres fired out of the throw-in to score, momentarily giving both Facundos the same stats of four penalty goals and one goal from the field for a total of five goals each. Each Facundo racked up another goal before the fourth chukker ended, making the score 10-7. Leaping out of the throw-in for a breakaway, Polito Pieres drove in a goal and solidified the Orchard Hill lead 11-7 at the end of the fourth chukker.
The fifth chukker brought a shift in momentum as Las Monjitas continued to battle it out with Orchard Hill. Astrada popped the ball up into the air before hitting it to Sebastian Merlos, who sealed the deal and made the score 11-8. Goal attempts on both sides went wide before Facundo Pieres decided to take matters into his own hands and run a goal in. Two more penalty conversions by Sola brought Las Monjitas within two points of Orchard Hill, turning the tide of the game in their favor before the end of the fifth chukker.
The 111th U.S. Open Polo Championship resumes Wednesday, April 8, with three games: Orchard Hill vs. Coca-Cola at 10 a.m.; Audi vs. Alegria Assist Card at 2:30 p.m., and FlexJet vs. Lechuza Caracas at 3 p.m.
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