In a spectacular finish, Sebastian Merlos scored the winning goal to lead Travieso to a thrilling 10-9 overtime victory over Beverly Equestrian Saturday at breezy Grand Champions Polo Club.
It was Travieso’s second consecutive 20-goal tournament win during the winter season.
The foursome of Tony Calle, Torito Ruiz, Merlos and Hugo Barabucci also won the prestigious Sterling Cup last month.
Beverly Equestrian (Bill Ballhaus, Carlucho Arellano, Magoo Laprida, Inaki Laprida), making its 20-goal season debut, finished runner-up in the competitive inaugural Molina Cup.
Argentine 9-goaler Sebastian Merlos, enjoying one of his finest winter seasons, was named Most Valuable Player. Merlos scored five goals including three penalty conversions and was a streadying influence on his teammates.
“Sebe had a very positive mindset,” Calle said. “He kept on saying we were still in it, we had to keep fighting and we had enough time to come back. He was 100 percent right.”
Tattooed Lady, a 6-year-old mare ridden by Arellano and purchased from Marathon Farms, was selected Best Playing Pony.
In front of a packed house and worldwide ChukkerTV audience, it was a physical, defensive battle for most of the game. Beverly Equestian dominated the first half with its tight man defense, taking Travieso out of its game and shutting them out in the second chukker.
Led by the Laprida brothers, Beverly Equestrian jumped out to leads of 3-1 in the opening chukker, 4-1 after the second chukker and 6-3 at the half.
After Inaki Laprida opened the fourth quarter with a goal that rolled just inside the goal post for a 7-3 advantage, Travieso started to dig itself out of a hole.
“We were not concentrating at all in the first half, we were sleeping,” Merlos said. “I shout a little because it was the only way to wake them up. We were watching them play but after halftime we did a good comeback.
“I think this is a really big win for Travieso because it is the first time the organization plays 20-goal,” Merlos said. “To win both tournaments is good. I don’t know if we deserved to win the final but we had a good tournament.”
Despite Beverly Equestrian’s smothering defense, Travieso scored three unanswered goals in the fourth chukker and early in the fifth to trail by only one, 7-6, with 4:10 left in the fifth.
Beverly Equestrian came back with two goals of its own (from Arellano and penalty one) to pull ahead, 9-6.
“They were playing amazing and we didn’t start out very well,” Ruiz said. “We tried hard. I didn’t think we would come back, we were playing very bad and they were playing good. But even playing bad we were in the game. I think we were very lucky.”
Travieso saved its best for last in the sixth chukker with three more unanswered goals for a 3-0 advantage in regulation and fourth goal in overtime. Barabucci came up with his first goal of the game at1:46 to trail, 9-8, and Calle scored with 32 seconds left to send the game into overtime.
“Honestly, I didn’t think we would come back,” Barabucci said. “Beverly played fantastic. We played one-and-a-half chukkers really well. It was a good game to watch.
“We are happy to win the second 20-goal final for Travieso,” Barabucci said. “The organization is unbelievable. We are so happy. We did it and this is amazing.”
In overtime, Travieso went into full attack mode. Barabucci won the throw-in and Merlos moved the ball downfield. After Barabucci had a goal attempt turned away, Calle came up with the play of the game stopping the ball just inches from going over the backline to set up Merlos’ heroics.
“I saw that Hugo left the ball for me, he was going with the man and I called him off and I hit it,” said Calle, who replaced his father Teo, sidelined with a back injury, in the lineup. “I didn’t get the shot I wanted. It was going left outside. The ball was bouncing and I said the only play I got is to leave it in front of the goal. I hit a nearside belly shot to Sebe and luckily it stayed there where I wanted it to go and Sebe hit it.”
Added Sebe, “Tony did a great play, the ball was about to go out and he did a little back shot and left the ball right in the middle. In the very beginning I didn’t see the goal and then I saw it. I was very lucky to avoid the hook from Bill.”
Travieso, a team that got its start at Grand Champions, will make its debut in the U.S. Open next week at International Polo Club Palm Beach with Teo Calle, 9-goalers Alfredo Capella and Merlos and 7-goaler Mariano Gonzalez.
“It’s an enormous win for Travieso, it’s our second 20-goal,” Calle said. “It was very important to win the way we did. We were losing the entire game and managed to come back. It’s a good learning experience, learning how to win from behind.”
Calle and Ruiz each had two goals and Barabucci had one. Arellano led Beverly Equestrian with four goals including three penalty conversions. Inaki Laprida added three and Magoo Laprida had one goal.
A star-studded VIP tent was treated to live music, DJ Adam Lipson and catered affair by award-winning Wellington chef Shannon Atkins. The sixteen teams slated to compete in the $100,000 World Cup at Grand Champions had their own individual tents to watch the game before the World Cup draw and after-party was held.
The two-week Molina Cup tournament, featured a star-studded lineup of some of the world’s top players from six different countries including Ecuador-based Travieso, one of the winningest teams in Grand Champions history.
The 120-year-old handcrafted silver Molina Cup trophy was given to Marc Ganzi by Alfredo Molina, Chairman of the Phoenix-based Molina Group and owner of Molina Fine Jewelers.
Ganzi was competing in the Bentley Scottsdale Polo Championships this past fall and admired Molina’s work with the winning trophy presented to two-time defending champion Aspen Valley Polo Club (Melissa Ganzi, Juancito Bollini, Nic Roldan) at the Scottsdale event.