Casablanca Wins Thriller On Last-Second Goal, Will Face GSA In $50,000 National 12-Goal Final
By Arianna Delin, Sharon Robb for Grand Champions Polo Club
In a wild finish, Grant Ganzi scored the winning goal with one second remaining to lead Casablanca to a 9-8 victory over Westhaven in the semifinals of the $50,000 National 12-Goal Tournament Friday at Grand Champions Polo Club.
With time running out, Ganzi picked up a wide defensive neck shot by Felipe Viana and hit an incredible open back shot just inside the right goal post to clinch the victory and send No. 4 seed Casablanca into the final against top-seed GSA tentatively scheduled for Tuesday.
Grant Ganzi of Casablanca and Pedro Falabella of Westhaven ride downfield.
“I knew time was running out, I saw the clock wind down,” Ganzi said. “I put my head down and just swung at the goal. I knew I had a really hard angle but I was hitting my back shots during the game and felt confident about it.
“It is the best goal I have ever scored in my life,” said the Lynn University freshman. “And most important one so far.”
Casablanca (Matias Gonzalez, 18, Grant Ganzi, 18, Juancito Bollini, 20, Jesse Bray, 24) and GSA (Henry Porter, 17, Juan Martin Zubia, 18, Torito Ruiz, 18, Santino Magrini, 15) are the youngest team finalists in tournament history. The average age of the players is 18.5.
Casablanca teammates Jesse Bray and Grant Ganzi close in on Pedro Falabella of Westhaven.
For the second consecutive game, Casablanca fell behind Westhaven (Max Torokvei, Agustin Arellano, Felipe Viana, Pedro Falabella) early, struggled and then dug itself out of a hole in the
Westhaven maintained two and three-goal leads in the first five chukkers before Bray took advantage of a broken play and scored to end the fifth chukker at 7-7. The teams were tied again at 8-8 in the final two minutes before Ganzi’s heroics.
“This team has so much fight in it,” Ganzi said. “They are all my friends. The way we came back, the way we never gave up, it’s just an amazing trait. This team gave everything it had on the field.”
Grant Ganzi of Casablanca on his way to scoring the game-winner.
Bray scored a game-high eight goals, including four on penalty shots. Gonzalez and Bollini were outstanding on defense. Falabella led Westhaven with five goals, Arellano had two and Viana added one.
GSA advanced with a 10-7 semifinal victory over County Line Feed and Supply/Team USPA (Nick Johnson, Kylie Sheehan, Wes Finlayson, Santi Torres) on Thursday. Magrini had a game-high five goals. Zubia and Ruiz each scored two goals. Santi Torres led County Line Feed/Team USPA with four goals and Wes Finlayson added two.
“They are going to be a very tough team to beat, every one plays well,” Ganzi said. “I am happy they are doing so well. They have only lost one game this season. It’s going to be a fun, wide open game.
Jesse Bray of Casablanca outraces Felipe Viana of Westhaven.
“We match up well against them. If any team can beat them I think we have the best chance. We are all friends, they are all good guys. No matter who wins it is going to be a great game, win or lose we’re going to celebrate.”
It will be Casablanca’s second appearance in the finals in the four-year history of the tournament, the nation’s only 12-goal single-elimination event to offer major winner-take-all prize money.
Bray was a member and MVP of last year’s champion Palm Beach Illustrated/Team USPA (Todd Thurston, Jared Zenni, Geronimo Obregon, Bray), 13-12 winners over Pony Express (Justin Daniels, Benji Daniels, Bautista Urbina, Tomas Goti).
Matias Gonzalez and Grant Ganzi of Casablanca chase down Felipe Viana of Westhaven.
In 2015, Ganzi and Bollini were members of Audi’s winning team along with Mark Tomlinson and Wes Finlayson that had one of its best games of the season to defeat Newport (Gene Goldstein, Joaquin Panelo, Michel Dorignac, Agustin Arellano). In 2014, Ganzi and Bollini played for Casablanca that lost to Palm Beach Equine, 11-9.
Grand Champions Polo Club caters to men, women and youth polo players at all levels. Its expert staff can customize a complete playing experience including horses, pros and certified umpires in addition to lessons and practice sessions as part of its’ Polo On Demand program, the only polo club in the U.S. to offer the unique program.
Jesse Bray of Casablanca retains possession with Agustin Arellano of Westhaven defending. Photos by ChukkerTV
The Polo School at Grand Champions, a 501c3 organization, is dedicated to teaching polo to all ages, particularly grass roots youth. Its mission is to provide individuals opportunities in polo. The Polo School operates in Wellington January through June and September through November.