Audi Beats Zorzal In Overtime To Remain In Contention In 109th Maserati U.S. Open
Written by: Sharon Robb
Juancito Bollini, Nico Pieres, Marc Ganzi, Gonzalito Pieres, Jeff Hall. Photo Alex Pacheco
WELLINGTON, FL—April 1, 2013 -Audi looked like its old winning self Sunday in the 109th Maserati U.S. Open at International Polo Club Palm Beach.
And it couldn’t come at a more perfect time.
After six hardfought chukkers, Jeff Hall shook off a back injury to score the winning goal 17 seconds into sudden death overtime to lead Audi to a thrilling come-from-behind 11-10 victory over Zorzal to remain alive in the U.S. Open.
It was the second time this season that Audi, coming off Thursday’s 12-11 loss to Coca-Cola, defeated Zorzal in overtime.
Hall took a tap from Juancito Bollini after the throw-in and raced towards goal, weaving his way past defenders Freddie Mannix and Jason Crowder to score his first goal of the game.
“I thought to myself just go score it,” said Hall, one of the top American players rated at seven goals. “I felt good.
“That’s one of my favorite horses,” Hall said. “I actually played him three times today. He’s really comfortable to hit the ball on. He’s really quick so as soon as I got it and passed Freddie I knew I had a good chance to score. That was a super tough team.”
Audi 10-goaler Gonzalito Pieres hit a 30-yard penalty shot with 34 seconds left in regulation to send the game into overtime.
“This was all-or-nothing for us,” Hall said. “If we had lost today it would have put us in a really tough situation. We have a good team. We’ve just had some bad luck lately. Hopefully, it turns around for us at the end.”
The victory may have been a costly one. Audi team captain Marc Ganzi, playing despite a broken thumb and knee injury, was hit on his mallet arm by a horse’s head and was forced to leave the game with 4:13 left in the fourth chukker.
“I’ve played the U.S. Open for seven years and never been injured,” Ganzi said. “I broke some ribs but I was able to play through that. This is frustrating because all of the injuries are occurring to my mallet hand and if you can’t have a mallet hand it’s difficult to play the game.
“The good news is we have a system, we didn’t abandon the system and Jeff makes an amazing play to win the game. And, we have a really good substitute in Juancito.”
Bollini, 16, a Wellington High School senior, replaced Ganzi in the lineup and scored a goal to tie the game at 9-9 in the sixth chukker. “It was a good back shot by Nico to me,” said Bollini of his teammate’s assist.
“I went to the team meeting yesterday and I knew what Marc was going to do so when I got in so I knew what I had to do and what I had to get,” Bollini said. “I felt really good and more in rhythm. It was a relief when Jeff scored. This gave us a big breath for the next game.”
After a 4-4 halftime, Audi fell behind by three goals in the fourth chukker (7-4) but dug itself out of a hole in the fifth and sixth chukkers.
“We persevered,” Ganzi said. “The first half we played them even. The second half we played them even. We continue to live and now we go on to the next one.”
Nico Pieres led Audi scoring with six goals. Gonzalito Pieres added three goals. Audi was also awarded a penalty one automatic goal after Ganzi was fouled.
“It was an important win,” Nico Pieres said. “It was really important, now we are 1-1. I think we have to play the whole game like we did today in the last two chukkers.
“In the middle of every game we have some five or six minutes that are terrible and they can score a lot of goals,” Pieres said. “We have to focus on every chukker, every play and I think we can be much better.”
In the early Sunday game, Valiente, coming off a 13-9 victory over Zacara in the USPA Piaget Gold Cup final, won its opener of the U.S. Open with an equally impressive 15-7 victory over Coca-Cola.
Ten-goaler Adolfo Cambiaso led Valiente scoring with six goals, Santi Torres had five including one that bounced off the goal post and 10-goaler Pelon Stirling had four.
In the third Sunday game, 10-goaler Facundo Pieres and Mike Azzaro each scored four goals to lead Zacara to a 12-10 win over Orchard Hill. Azzaro, a former 10-goaler, was named MVP. Team captain Lyndon Lea, despite a hip injury, scored two goals.
In this year’s U.S. Open, there are three brackets. Audi is in bracket one with Coca-Cola, Zorzal, ERG and Valiente. Piaget is in bracket two with Faraway and Orchard Hill. The third bracket is Lechuza Caracas, Alegria and Zacara.
The teams in bracket one will play within the bracket with the best four teams, by record, advancing to the quarterfinals. The teams in bracket two and three will play cross-bracket, with the best four out of all six teams, by record, also advancing into the quarters.
Zacara is defending U.S. Open champion.
The U.S. Open Polo Championship, first played in 1904 at Van Courtland Park, celebrated 100 years in 2004. It is one of three major polo tournaments worldwide along with the British and Argentine Opens. It is also the third jewel of U.S. polo’s 26-goal Triple Crown that includes the C.V. Whitney Cup and USPA Piaget Gold Cup.
For the first half of the 20th century the U.S. Open Polo Championship was hosted in the northeast, primarily at Meadowbrook Polo Club. In 1954, the U.S. Open moved to Oakbrook Polo Club, outside of Chicago, where it stayed until 1978.
The next eight U.S. Opens were hosted by Retama Polo Club in San Antonio where Memo Gracida won the first of his record 16 wins. In 1987, the U.S. Open was played at El Dorado Polo Club in Palm Springs. The next four were played at Horsepark in Lexington, Ky.
Since 1996, the U.S. Open has been held in South Florida. In 2005, Julio Gracida added to the Gracida family’s combined record of 36 U.S. Open Polo Championship wins.
AUDI/PIAGET U.S. OPEN SCHEDULE
Thursday, April 4, Audi vs. Valiente, 2 p.m.
Friday, April 5, Piaget vs. Alegria, 4 p.m.
Sunday, April 7, Audi vs. ERG, noon.
Thursday, April 11, Piaget vs. Zacara, 10 a.m.
Sunday, April 14, Quarterfinals
Wednesday, April 17, Hall of Fame Cup, semifinal; U.S. Open Semifinals, 2 and 4 p.m.
Saturday, April 20: Hall of Fame Cup final, 4 p.m.
Sunday, April 21: Maserati U.S. Open final, 3 p.m.
GRAND CHAMPIONS POLO CLUB
WHERE: On the corner of South Shore Boulevard and Lake Worth Road, Wellington.