WELLINGTON, FL-Oct. 20 2013—-For the second week in a row, Casablanca won a championship title in a thrilling finish.
Hall of Famer Mike Azzaro scored the tying goal with 1:10 left in regulation and winning goal just 43 seconds into overtime for a 12-11 victory over ELG Sunday to win the US Trust Cup presented by Polo Gear at Grand Champions Polo Club.
Both teams had each other on the ropes with opportunities to win in regulation and overtime.
Azzaro missed a breakaway shot with 24 seconds left in regulation and ELG’s Nic Roldan missed a penalty shot early in overtime to set up Azzaro’s heroics.
It was the second fall tournament victory for Casablanca with up-and-coming players Grant Ganzi, 15, Juancito Bollini, 17, and Wes Finlayson, 18, along with the veteran 8-goaler Azzaro, who was Mr. Clutch when it mattered most.
Last weekend Casablanca won the USPA Kay Colee Memorial Cup with a 10-7 victory over ELG.
“This team is amazing,” said Bollini. “Mike is incredible. He is so good and tells us exactly what to do. He doesn’t get hot-headed. This was our second tournament win together and it was fun. It helps our confidence.”
Azzaro was named Most Valuable Player for the second consecutive tournament. Azzaro finished with four goals and had some outstanding defensive plays while providing leadership for his young teammates. Lima, ridden by Marc Ganzi, was named Best Playing Pony.
“We did well,” Azzaro said. “They had a little off time and got a little frustrated on certain things, but they still played well. This is the way you learn. Today, Granti really stepped up. The first three chukkers he played were incredible. He had a super, super game.”
In other Cup games, Audi (Melissa Ganzi, Juan Bollini, Brandon Phillips, Leo Mandelbaum) defeated Newport (Gene Goldstein, Michel Dorignac, Luis Escobar, Kaisser Maakar), 14-11, to win the Wellington Chamber of Commerce Cup in front of a special gathering of several chamber members and guests for an asado and to help usher in the fall season and opening of the Wellington Green Market.
Phillips scored a game-high six goals and Mandelbaum added five goals for Audi. Goldstein led Newport with five goals.
Beluga (Misha Rodzianko, Mariano Gracida, Joey Casey, Carlos Diaz) won the Polo Gear Fall Challenge Cup with a 10-7 win over Palm House. Gracida, the youngest son of Hall of Famer and former 10-goaler Carlos Gracida, had a game-high five goals and Rodzianko added three goals for Beluga. Guille (Gigi) Aguero led Palm House (Glenn Straub, Kris Kampsen, Charles Armstrong) with three goals.
But the highlight of the fall season’s fourth tournament was watching the weekly progression of three teenagers playing alongside Azzaro, the team’s field general providing guidance and leadership.
“It was a thrill to come back like that,” said Finlayson, whose heart sank just moments before when he thought he cost his team the game after fouling Marc Ganzi in overtime to set up Roldan’s penalty shot.
“I thought the game was over,” said Finlayson, who hit himself on his helmet with his mallet after crossing the line. “But thank God Nic missed the penalty four and it worked out.”
Added Bollini, “When Nic had that penalty, we’re thinking we’re done. That was scary. But once he missed we got back into the game and got our composure back.”
All three teenagers had some big-time plays in clutch situations.
“Each game this team is getting better,” Azzaro said. “Without having practice games or stick-and-ball together they are doing incredible. If we could have a practice game once a week or stick-and-ball they would advance even more.
“It’s awesome to play with these guys,” Azzaro said. “They are really nice boys, very respectful. Hopefully, they can take from what we are doing here and continue on over the winter and learn from it.”
“I am happy we won,” Finlayson said. “I didn’t play so well but it was fun. Mike has amazing horses. He ran it down himself and scored and that was the win.”
No one was happier than Grant Ganzi, who was pitted against his father. The two have played together and against each other, but Ganzi said Sunday’s game is memorable because it was a final. Ganzi finished with four goals including three in the first half.
“This was very satisfying to win because my dad was playing very hard and was playing a couple of his high goal horses,” Ganzi said. “It was just a really great win. This is definitely one of my bigger wins beating Nic and my dad. I don’t think I have ever beaten my dad in a Grand Champions final. It means a lot.
“As we play more and more, we get more chemistry and more ability to play better with each other,” Ganzi said. “Mike really helps our team, even when we make a bad play he tells us we can turn it around. He turns our head around and tells us we will get another opportunity to make it up.”
For ELG (Marc Ganzi, Carlitos Gracida, Nic Roldan, Avery Chapman), Roldan led in scoring with five goals. Gracida and Marc Ganzi each had three goals.
Polo Gear was the tournament’s presenting sponsor. Polo Gear USA manufactures, distributes and sells polo products to players, teams and polo events worldwide. Polo Gear Wellington’s Showroom and Warehouse is located at 3500 Fairlane Farms Rd #15 and is the local distributor.
In the showroom, there is a pictorial history of polo and polo memorabilia. The walls are lined with team jerseys and uniforms from the world’s top teams, pictures of top players and celebrities, game action photos, trophies and mementos.
The shop serves as Polo Gear’s wholesale and custom team order showroom. Its display room and warehouse is stocked with Polo Gear products.
Store hours are Monday through Friday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. and Saturday 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Visitors are welcome.
GRAND CHAMPIONS FALL SCHEDULE
Oct. 25-27, USPA Fall Plates
Oct. 30-Nov. 9, USPA North America Cup
Nov. 1-3, Pedro Morrison Memorial
Nov. 8-10, Palm Restaurant Invitational
Nov. 13-24,The National 20-Goal Championship
GRAND CHAMPIONS POLO CLUB
WHERE: 13444 Southfields Road, on the corner of South Shore Boulevard and Lake Worth Road, Wellington, 561-644-5050.
INFORMATION: There are great field side views for tournament action at the home base of pro team Audi. Everyone is welcome to watch high and medium goal polo in a relaxed atmosphere during the spring and fall tournament season and other special events including the International Cup in November, Buzz Welker Memorial Junior Tournament in March, Women’s Championship Tournament and Gay Polo League International Tournament, both in April.