By Alex Webbe
Orchard Hill (Benjamin Avendano, Polito Pieres, Peke Gonzalez and Lucas Criado) came back from an 11-9 loss to Audi/Millarville with a vengeance as they throttled previously unbeaten Dubai (Rashid Albwardy, Carlos Gracida, Diego Cavanagh and Alejo Taranco), 17-9 on the Valiente polo field Monday afternoon in the final preliminary round of play in the 2016 Joe Barry Memorial Cup.
Bouncing back from an 11-9 loss to Audi/Millarville last Thursday, a well-coordinated Orchard Hill attack punished Dubai throughout the first five chukkers of Monday’s game. Led by Argentine 10-goaler Polito Pieres and the sixteen-year-old Peke Gonzalez, Orchard Hill galloped out to a comfortable 9-4 halftime lead before running away with the game in a 17-9 beat down.
Gonzalez scored the first goal of the game in the first 14 seconds of the first chukker, 1-0. Pieres made it 2-0 on a goal from the field and closed out the scoring in the period with a 40-yard penalty conversion to make it 3-0, Orchard Hill. A stunned Dubai team left the field after being shutout in the first seven minutes of the game.
Gonzalez wasted no time in reassuring spectators that his first goals was no fluke. He scored his second goal from the field in the opening 45 seconds of the second chukker, giving Orchard a four goals lead, 4-0.
Diego Cavanagh finally got Dubai on the scoreboard with a well-executed neck shot, 4-1. Pieres scored for the third time with 4:53 on the clock, 5-1. Alejo Taranco converted a 30-yard penalty shot that cut the lead to three goals, 5-2, and Cavanagh’s second goal of the chukker had Dubai within two goals of the lead, 5-3. On a great individual effort, Gonzalez scored for the third time in the final 18 seconds of the period to give Orchard Hill a 6-3 advantage.
The two teams exchanged penalty goals in the opening minutes of the third chukker. Pieres scored on a 30-yard shot while Cavanagh split the goalposts from 60-yards out. The three goal Orchard Hill lead held at 7-4. With two minutes on the clock, Pieres took a pass from Lucas Criado and raced over 200-yards down the field for a goal to stretch the lead to four goals, 8-4. Pieres dropped the ball on the end of Gonzalez’s mallet with 45 seconds in the chukker. Gonzalez didn’t disappoint, scoring his fourth goal of the game and putting Orchard Hill on top, 9-4, at the end of the first half of play.
Taranco stirred it up in the fourth period, scoring consecutive goals from the field to make it a 9-6 Orchard Hill lead. Pieres and Gonzalez each responded with a goal that cut the Dubai rally short, 11-6. A late Orchard Hill foul sent Cavanagh to the penalty line where he converted a 40-yard penalty shot for a goal, 11-7.
Sometimes the best defense is a strong offense as players find it difficult to score when you’re playing with your back to the play. Benjamin Avendano (filling in for team captain Steve Van Andel) scored the first goal of the fifth period followed by back-to-back goals from Pieres, 14-7. Gonzalez got back into the rotation adding his sixth goal of the game to the Orchard Hill total, making it 15-7. Pieres and Criado added the final two goals of the period as a heady Orchard Hill team rode off the field leading by ten goals, 17-7.
There was no surrender from the Dubai team as they took the field for the final period of play. The Orchard Hill defense continued to dominate play as Dubai fought to break through the Orchard Hill defenders. Taranco finally got on the scoreboard with 1:37 on the clock; and a final goal from Cavanagh ended in a 17-9 Dubai defeat.
Pieres led all scoring with nine goals (two on penalty conversions). Gonzalez added six goals and Orchard Hill got single goals from teammates Avendano and Criado. Cavanagh scored a team-high five goals for Dubai. Taranco added four goals in the loss.
A 9amTuesday morning shootout at the International Polo Club between 2-1 teams, Orchard Hill, Audi/Millarville and Dubai will decide the first place for bracket I and the second tournament semifinal qualifier (Enigma earned the top seed with a perfect 3-0 record). Villa del Lago earned a semifinal berth by virtue of its first place finish in Bracket II/III. Second and third place finishers will then take part in a second shootout with Palm Beach Illustrated to determine the fourth qualifier.
Tournament semifinals are scheduled to be played on Thursday, January 28th with the winners meeting in the final of the 2016 Joe Barry Memorial Cup on Sunday, January 31st.