WELLINGTON, FL-Nov. 17, 2013—-ELG advanced into Thursday’s semifinals and underdog Palm Beach Equine remained alive in the USPA National 20-Goal Championship Tournament Sunday at Grand Champions Polo Club.
ELG won a hardfought 12-10 victory over KIG to remain undefeated at 2-0 and earn the No. 1 seed in the East bracket for the semifinal round.
Palm Beach Equine knocked off Casablanca with a thrilling 12-11 overtime victory against the hottest team of the fall season and remained alive with a 1-1 record in the West bracket.
On Tuesday, Casablanca (0-1) will try to bounce back against defending champion Audi (1-0) in a crucial West bracket game at 3:30 p.m. game.
Faced with a must-win situation, Palm Beach Equine (Julio Ezcurra, Carlucho Arellano, Luis Escobar, Scott Swerdlin) played its finest game of the season controlling the tempo and frustrating error-prone Casablanca (Grant Ganzi, Sugar Erskine, Mike Azzaro, Hector Galindo) for most of the game.
With 3:37 left in overtime, Escobar got loose and found an opening to score the winning goal for the biggest upset of the tournament.
“This is why we play polo for plays like that and playing good polo,” Escobar said. “Win or lose, today the game was a lot of fun.”
Escobar was in the right place at the right time for his fourth and most important goal of the game.
“The eyes were wide open on that goal,” Escobar said. “We got lucky. Mike hit a big ball that hit my teammate. I ended up backing the ball and was able to turn on it and started running. Mike catches up to me and I miss the ball. Scott takes it, then there’s Mike again. He waits for Scott who leaves the ball for Julio but then Mike is still there. So finally Julio makes Mike over commit the play and I was able to turn around and come and score.
“We are alive and kicking,” Escobar said with a smile.
Palm Beach Equine started off with a 3-0 lead by handicap and built on it behind the one-two scoring punch of Escobar and Arellano and well-disciplined defense.
“The plan was to play more organized on defense because our last game in the end we screwed that up and they played better for sure,” Ezcurra said. “This time we tried to stay focused on the whole game. That was the key.
“They came back in the last chukker and tied us to go into overtime but we still stayed focused,” Ezcurra said. “That winning goal was a team effort. First Luis ran to the goal, he was hooked by Mike, then Scott left me the ball. I touch it and then I took Mike out and Luis scored the goal.”
Palm Beach Equine led 3-2 after the first chukker and shut down Casablanca in the second chukker for a 4-2 advantage. With two goals from Azzaro in the third chukker, Casablanca outscored Palm Beach Equine, 2-1, but still trailed 6-4 at the half.
Palm Beach Equine took advantage of six missed scoring opportunities by Casablanca to outscore them 2-1 and lead 8-5 after four chukkers.
Casablanca started hitting its shots in the final two chukkers to outscore Palm Beach Equine, 6-3, in the fifth and six chukkers including a 3-0 shutout in the final chukker.
With Palm Beach Equine leading 11-10 with 2:10 remaining, Galindo scored to tie the game and send it into overtime.
Escobar and Arellano each had four goals and Ezcurra added one. Swerdlin played well defensively.
“This team is wonderful, it’s just a thrill to play with these guys,” Swerdlin said. “They work so hard. Luis just inspires everybody.
“I think the momentum changed when Carlucho hit that 80-yard nearside back shot right through the goal,” Swerdlin said. “That was an amazing shot. It pulled us all up and we said, ‘hell, we have a chance of beating these guys.'”
Swerdlin admitted he wasn’t sure about the outcome of the game when Casablanca sent the game into overtime.
“I didn’t feel it was our game. I thought Mike was going to come out and dominate us,” Swerdlin said. “He has done that so many times. It’s just that last play. He over-committed a little bit and there were four of us in a line and on that last play he couldn’t do it all by himself.
“We were lucky, just everything was lucky. The nice thing about being the underdogs is you’re never disappointed are you?” Swerdlin said.
In the opening game of the doubleheader, ELG (Avery Chapman, Guille Aguero, Kris Kampsen, Tommy Biddle), despite getting shut out in two chukkers by a stingy KIG (Matteo DePaolis, Jeff Blake, Brandon Phillips, Michel Doreignac) defense, played well enough to hold off KIG and remain undefeated.
“We’re going to have to play better, more consistent,” Biddle said. “We played well for two chukkers, then we fell asleep for two chukkers and then played well for two chukkers. We have to play six chukkers.”
ELG had a balanced scoring attack. Kampsen and Aguero each scored four goals. Chapman and Biddle each had two goals.
“We were lucky,” Aguero said. “Tommy started hitting the ball well and Avery did a great job in the last two chukkers working the man. There’s no such thing as an easy game. We expected a good game from them. Those guys are good players and played well together.”
For KIG, Dorignac had five goals, Phillips scored two and Blake and DePaolis each had one. KIG also picked up one goal on handicap.
ELG, with its hit-and-run game, jumped out to a 7-3 lead after two chukkers before KIG started reeling them in the third chukker and trailed by only one goal at the half (7-6).
“Those guys are all great players, I feel very fortunate to win,” Kampsen said. “We have a system of playing, hit and run, don’t get complicated. We respected each other’s calls and kept the ball moving and flowing.
“There is never an easy game once you get to 20-goal polo,” Kampsen said. “It doesn’t matter where you are, there is never an easy game because you start playing with better players and everyone has the skills to score against you.”
ELG maintained its one-goal lead (9-8) after the fourth chukker and added three big goals in the fifth chukker for a 12-9 advantage after the fifth chukker. Despite being shut out in the final chukker, ELG held on for the win.
“Playing with your friends means you have a lot of elasticity in your game,” Chapman said. “So when you have a bad chukker or two, you know you can regroup and come on. No one is going to have a meltdown or blame anybody else.
“With due respect to the other team, we gave up a lot of penalties,” Chapman said. “That’s what hurt us, not the playing from the field. We didn’t give it up much on the field. We feel very fortunate to play together and looking forward to the semifinals.”
With the loss, KIG (0-2) was eliminated from title contention.
The semifinals are Thursday and championship final on Saturday, Nov. 23.
Six teams entered the two-week tournament broken down into two divisons. Audi, Casablanca and Palm Beach Equine are in the West bracket and KIG, ELG and Piaget are in the East bracket. The six teams are:
Audi (18), Marc Ganzi, Carlitos Gracida, Nic Roldan, Carlos Gracida.
Casablanca (19), Grant Ganzi, Sugar Erskine, Hector Galindo, Mike Azzaro.
ELG (19), Avery Chapman, Kris Kampsen, Guille Aguero, Tommy Biddle.
Palm Beach Equine (17), Scott Swerdlin, Julio Ezcurra, Carlucho Arellano, Luis Escobar.
Piaget (20), Melissa Ganzi, Jeff Hall, Piki Alberdi, Juan Bollini.
KIG (18) Bash Kazi/Juancito Bollini/Matteo DePaolis, Brandon Phillips, Michel Dorignac, Jeff Blake.
GRAND CHAMPIONS FALL SCHEDULE
Nov. 13-23, USPA National 20-Goal Championship
Nov. 24, Turkey Trot Juniors Tournament, 10 a.m.
Nov. 30, The Legends of Polo, 1 p.m. and International Cup, Team USA vs. Chile, 3 p.m.
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, ProKidz Tournaments in the spring and fall, Women’s Championship Tournament and Gay Polo League International Tournament, both in April.