Coca-Cola Captures Thrilling OT Win over Orchard Hill 11-10
The first half of the opening semifinal of the day displayed tremendous defense from both teams, resulting in a low-scoring first two chukkers of competition. Orchard Hill captured an early two-goal lead, but Coca-Cola fought back in the second outscoring Orchard Hill 2-1, both goals contributed by Julian de Lusarreta. The game finally opened up in the third as Orchard Hill began to fall into stride, putting three more goals on the board, overshadowing Coca-Cola’s solitary goal from Miguel Novillo Astrada, to double up their lead 6-3 at the half.
“We needed to come back in the fourth and play well. One of the keys when you play someone like Cambiaso or Facundo is you have to get them before they get the ball, because once they get the ball they are so hard to stop. Not letting them get possession, executing our passes better, that’s what helped.” –Julio Arellano
A gripping second half ensued as the teams alternated control each chukker. In the fourth, an outstanding performance by Coca-Cola shut out Orchard Hill resulting in three unanswered goals to tie the score 6-6. Orchard Hill then dominated the fifth with three consecutive goals to take back the lead. Julio Arellano managed to put a goal on the board to narrow the gap 9-7. Arellano uncharacteristically missed two consecutive and pivotal penalty conversions, allowing Orchard Hill to maintain the lead. An impressive breakaway and goal out of the air by Facundo Pieres that brought the crowd to their feet shot Orchard Hill into the double digits 10-7.
“You have to play with determination and forget about the score. Just finish strong, never give up.” –Hall of Famer Memo Gracida, Coca-Cola Coach.
Not to be discouraged, fans cheered as Coca-Cola rallied with three consecutive goals to tie the score and send the game into overtime. A right-of-way violation against Orchard Hill awarded Coca-Cola with a penalty 4. Arellano calmly approached the 80-yard penalty line, striking the ball close to the ground. It was deflected by an Orchard Hill player and bounced left of the goal. In an epic and ultimate comeback move, Lusarreta popped a short backshot into the goal to steal the win, seemingly surprising even himself with the score. Coca-Cola upset Orchard Hill with a final score 11-10 to capture the first spot in the USPA Gold Cup® Final.
Novillo Astrada welcomed the addition of Coach Memo Gracida to the team dynamics, “It has been great. He helps us a lot, and gives great advice. It takes some pressure off, because he helps to develop the strategy, and he works with Gillian a lot. He gives her, and us, a lot of confidence.” Novillo Astrada continued discussing the integral role he believes coaching will play in the future of polo, “I think coaching in polo is something that is coming. The coach has to be a professional and has to become another player. I think that is the next step in polo. If we want to make polo a legitimate sport, that is the next step.”
Valiente Defeat Audi 12-8 in an Uninspiring and Foul-Riddled Semifinal
An undefeated Valiente met Audi in the second semifinal. Audi who experienced two losses in bracket play kept pace with 2017 C.V. Whitney Cup champions Valiente throughout the first half. A close game with a tied score at three separate intervals, Valiente was able to pull ahead by one 6-5.
A decent, evenly-matched, albeit foul-riddled initial three chukkers, took a turn for the worse in the second half. Audi began to unravel, surrendering two field goals and a penalty 2, widening Valiente’s lead 9-5. Two field goals, one by Rodrigo Andrade and another from Tomas Pieres kept Audi in the game 9-7. However, yet another Cavanagh penalty conversion, his fifth of the day, raised Valiente’s lead 10-7. The final chukker involved a disappointing spectacle of excessive fouls from both sides, resulting in three penalty 2 conversions, the only goals of the chukker. Gonzalito Pieres knocked in one for Audi, but the unstoppable Cavanagh swiftly contributed two more goals to the Valiente total to cement their win 12-8. Valiente secured their second 26-goal tournament final spot, largely due to the efforts of game high-scorer Cavanagh, garnering an unofficial most valuable player nod for scoring every Valiente goal, except one.
The USPA Gold Cup® Final between Coca-Cola and Valiente will be played Sunday, March 26 at 3:00pm ET at the International Polo Club Palm Beach. The USPA Polo Network (uspolo.org) will livestream the USPA Gold Cup® Final.