Following cross-bracket play between seven teams, four progressed into the semifinals to battle for a spot in the Carlos Gracida Cup Final. In the first semifinal played on Tuesday, March 27, at the Everglades Polo Club in Wellington, Florida, Coca-Cola held onto a slight lead in the second half, outscoring Prestige Worldwide 9-7. A few hours later at nearby International Polo Club Palm Beach also in Wellington, Florida, La Indiana came back from the penalty line to capture the second spot 10-9 from Pilot. Coca-Cola will challenge La Indiana in the final this Saturday, March 31, at 3:00pm ET at the International Polo Club Palm Beach, each vying for the opportunity to be crowned Inaugural Carlos Gracida Cup champions.
Coca-Cola Advances on Home Turf
Confident having placed first in Bracket III, Coca-Cola’s combination of teamwork and strategic play earned them a spot in the semifinal on Tuesday, March 27, with only Prestige Worldwide standing between them and the final. A tight game throughout, Coca-Cola’s precision from the penalty line gave them the advantage needed to claim their third win 9-7.
Eager to be the first on the board, both teams played the first chukker with fervor, resulting in several right-of-way violations. Assisted by his teammates, Sugar Erskine struck first for Coca-Cola with a field goal which Steve Krueger* followed up with a Penalty 2 conversion. Mirroring their opponents’ goals, Prestige Worldwide reset the game and entered the second once again on a level playing field. After an attempt to score went wide, Miguel Novillo Astrada finally found his target, closing in on the posts with a nearside neckshot to pick up his second goal. Benefiting from an automatic Penalty 1 goal, Coca-Cola established a brief two-goal lead and through expert ball control, Krueger slowly guided the ball close enough to shoot. “We tried to use Gillian [Johnston] to go long and Steve helping in the back,” Erskine shared. “Also us slowing down a little bit more and then releasing helped us control the ball, making a transition in the speed of the plays.” Elevating his game, Stevie Orthwein secured three consecutive goals from the field as Prestige Worldwide unleashed strong offensive maneuvers to end the half 6-all.
As both teams struggled from disrupted plays in the second half, Coca-Cola’s Krueger remained steady from the penalty line, converting two additional Penalty 2 shots. Fueled by adrenaline, Felipe Viana* continued to break up Coca-Cola’s plays and exhibited excellent defensive skills long enough for Orthwein to make a single goal in the last 30 seconds of the fifth chukker. Hitting back and forth unsuccessfully up until the last minute of the sixth, Prestige Worldwide lost their chance to force overtime after a turning call resulted in a second Penalty 1 in favor of Coca-Cola. Unable to respond, Prestige Worldwide conceded victory to Coca-Cola 9-7.
Although playing without Julio Arellano due to a hand injury, Coca-Cola has continued to work together cohesively. “Now we’ve hit our stride playing with Nacho [Novillo Astrada] and hopefully it will carry over to the finals,” Krueger said. “We are going to have to play really well to win.”
La Indiana Sets Their Sights On Tournament Final Win
Unphased by their previous loss in the Iglehart Cup Final, La Indiana’s determination paid off, finding themselves in the Carlos Gracida Cup Semifinal. Edging out Pilot by one goal, La Indiana fought vigorously for a well-deserved win 10-9.
Many attempts on goal fell wide leading to a low scoring initial chukker. Pilot’s Matt Coppola* managed to score the single goal of the first to put Pilot on the board. Headed into the second chukker energized, La Indiana produced results with Michael Bickford finishing off a play on the south end and immediately scoring again on the north end. Forcing his way through the pack of defenders, Toro Ruiz kept the drive alive with a powerful neckshot to goal. As play continued in the third, La Indiana demonstrated well-executed teamwork, earning them three additional goals from the field. Resisting the offensive force, Gonzalito Pieres forced a final goal for Pilot in the last 30 seconds before the half, moving the tally to 6-4 in favor of La Indiana. “Our strategy was to put one man in front and another behind Gonzalito,” La Indiana’s Jeff Hall said. “He’s an excellent player and very well mounted so you have to box him in.”
Returning in the fourth, neither team would give up a point easily which resulted in over two minutes of continuous running from one goal mouth to the other. Possession going to La Indiana, Ruiz finally ended the stalemate with a goal, but Pilot was right behind him with two. Opening the fifth with an agile backshot between the goal posts, his fifth of the game, Pieres inspired Pilot to pull together as a team and play their strongest chukker yet. Blocking high-scorer Ruiz from their goal, Pilot picked up the lead 9-8 to end the fifth, but it would not hold for long. The renewed aggression of Pilot’s plays sparked by the desire to overturn the game resulted in two critical right-of-way violations which cost them the game. Capitalizing on the advantageous Penalty 2 call, Facundo Obregon converted both from the line to sweep the victory 10-9.
Playing together since the start of the 2018 Florida season, La Indiana is confident in their progressive growth and ability to take the tournament title. “We’ve gotten to the quarterfinals, semifinals and now our second finals and we keep getting better,” Hall revealed. “We know each other better as players and when we start moving the ball I feel like nobody can beat us.”
Coca-Cola will take on La Indiana in the last 20-goal final of the International Polo Club Palm Beach season on Saturday, March 31, at 3:00pm ET. For those interested in attending the game at the International Polo Club Palm Beach in person, please visit ipc.coth.com.