WELLINGTON, FL-April 14, 2013—Audi, given new life when Coca-Cola eliminated Zorzal, went down fighting Sunday in the quarterfinals of the 109th Maserati U.S. Open in front of a packed crowd at Isla Carroll East.
Leading 5-2 early in the third chukker, Audi lost its momentum in the fourth chukker and was unable to regain its composure ending its rollercoaster season at the hands of defending U.S. Open champion Zacara.
Zacara opened the second half with its best horses and outscored Audi 5-1 in the fourth chukker to defeat Audi, 12-8.
“I think we felt we had as good a chance as anyone,” Audi team captain Marc Ganzi said. “Recognizing this side of the bracket eventually meets Valiente, we felt there was a pretty clear path to get there if we could get through this game. This was the toughest game.”
Zacara 10-goaler Facundo Pieres, playing against brothers Gonzalito and Nico Pieres, led all scoring with nine goals including four in the fourth chukker.
The Pieres brothers along with Ganzi won the 2009 U.S. Open.
“We are in to win this tournament,” Facundo Pieres said. “It’s hard to play my brothers. It’s not nice to play against them. I am very happy for myself but feel really bad for them.”
Zacara (4-0), one of only two teams left undefeated in the 11-team tournament, will play Alegria (2-1), 10-9 winners over ERG (2-2) in Wednesday’s semifinal game at 4 p.m.
Valiente (5-0), 15-12 winners over Orchard Hill (1-3) will play Coca-Cola (2-2), 11-10 winners over Lechuza Caracas (2-2) in the other semifinal at 2 p.m.
“The first half we missed a lot of goals, five or six goals,” Zacara team captain Lyndon Lea said. “We knew that the odds were if we kept playing the way we were playing eventually they would come. Audi is a good team. There are no simple games in this tournament.”
Ganzi was forced to come out the fourth chukker when he lost the feeling in his right arm. Ganzi has been playing with a broken thumb, bruised arm and knee injury this season.
Wellington High senior Juancito Bollini, 16, replaced him for one chukker and defended well against former 10-goaler Mike Azzaro. Ganzi returned to the game in the fifth chukker but by then Zacara had found its momentum.
“It was unfortunate, my muscles had shut down and I just needed 15 minutes to get some ice and electro-stimulation,” Ganzi said. “I got my power back but I had no grip. My muscles had fatigued and cramped.”
Ganzi opted not to take the 15-minute injury timeout and sent Bollini in.
“I figured Juan could get out there and fill in pretty well,” Ganzi said. “He had filled in pretty well all season. It’s not on him. They came out after making a really nice halftime adjustment on the throw-ins and that opened up the space for them.
“With Mike Azzaro up front he was able to peel off, go receive passes and score goals again,” Ganzi said. “That’s what this team does well. When Mike scores, they win. When you shut Mike down you cut off their scoring and then you’re forcing Facundo and Magoo (LaPrida) to shoot from long distances. That’s what we tried to in the first half and it worked.
“We had a really good game plan to neutralize Magoo but the fourth chukker gave them life.”
Like many of its 26-goal games this season, it was a rollercoaster ride for Grand Champion Polo Club-based Audi against Zacara playing well the first half and then digging itself out of a hole in the second half.
“This was the defending U.S. Open champs, we knew this was going to be a tough, tough match-up,” Ganzi said. “We felt this was an even game inside the field.
“It’s the story of the season, close a bunch of times. We have some good chukkers and some bad chukkers. We win the first, second and third; we lose the fourth badly, we tie the fifth and lose the sixth. There’s your game.”
For Audi’s Jeff Hall, one of America’s top players rated at 7 goals, it was the end of a long season. Hall will now return to Texas where he plans to compete in 14-goal polo.
“I think we played a really good first half,” Hall said. “They made some good changes at halftime. They put Facundo in the back and Mike up front. They won a bunch of throw-ins. Their tactics were different.
“It was tough losing Marc in that chukker, that was uncontrollable. We were with the plan, we were playing well and we had rhythm. Everyone was pretty focused. We missed some back shots in the fourth. They just really outplayed us, the fourth chukker got us.
“It was a tough season,” Hall said. “It just seemed like we never got our rhythm 100 percent.”
Nico Pieres led Audi scoring with five goals including two on penalty shots. Gonzalito Pieres had three goals, all in the second chukker. In addition to Facundo Pieres nine goals, Azzaro had two and LaPrida one goal.
Asked what he was doing the remainder of the month Ganzi said, “I am going to try and relax.” He plans to undergo knee surgery later on this year and will rest his right arm and broken thumb.
On Thursday, Grand Champions Polo Club-based Piaget will play Faraway for the Hall of Fame Cup at 4 p.m.
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.
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.
PIAGET U.S. OPEN/HALL OF FAME CUP SCHEDULE
Wednesday, April 17, U.S. Open Semifinals, 2 and 4 p.m.
Thursday, April 18, Hall of Fame Cup final, Piaget vs. Faraway, 4 p.m.
Sunday, April 21: 109th 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.
INFORMATION: There are great field side views for tournament action at the home base of pro teams Audi and Piaget. Everyone is welcome to watch 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.