On an exciting day of polo in two close games decided by 60-yard penalty conversions, Flexjet and U.S. Polo Assn. advanced into the semifinals of the 114th U.S. Open Sunday at windswept International Polo Club Palm Beach.
Flexjet (Melissa Ganzi, A, Nico Pieres, 8, Gonzalito Pieres, 9, Rodrigo Andrade, 9) won a 13-12 overtime thriller over Audi (Marc Ganzi, 2, Nic Roldan, 8, Polito Pieres, 10, Mike Azzaro, 6) in the first mini-quarterfinal. Nico Pieres clinched the win with a 60-yard penalty conversion with 3:56 left in overtime.
U.S. Polo Assn. (Grant Ganzi, 2, Juancito Bollini, 4, Juan Martin Nero, 10, Alejandro Novillo Astrada), making its U.S. Open debut, knocked off Colorado (Rob Jornayvaz, 1, Juan Britos, 7, Magoo Laprida, 8, Diego Cavanagh, 9), 9-8, in the other mini-quarterfinal. Nero sealed the victory with a 60-yard penalty conversion with 16 seconds left in regulation.
On Wednesday, U.S. Polo Assn. plays Daily Racing Form (Jared Zenni, 5, Agustin Obregon, 5, Hilario Ulloa, 10, Mariano Obregon, 6) at noon. Flexjet meets defending champion Valiente (Bob Jornayvaz, 2, Tommy Beresford, 4, Facundo Pieres, 10, Adolfo Cambiaso, 10) at 4 p.m. The winners advance into Sunday’sfinal at 3 p.m. Audi and Colorado will play in the subsidiary Hall of Fame Cup.
In the opening mini-quarterfinal, the Flexjet-Audi matchup was anybody’s game.
The lead changed hands or was tied 12 times with Audi leading by as much as 6-3 in the third chukker after shutting Flexjet out, 2-0, in the third and Flexjet leading by as much as 12-8 in the fifth chukker after outscoring Audi, 9-2, in the fourth and fifth chukkers. Audi came back in the sixth to shut out Flexjet, 4-0, sending the game into overtime.
“We played a really bad chukker, they came back and scored,” Gonzalito Pieres. “We had it in our hands and we let them back into the game. We had a really good fifth chukker and a really bad sixth.
“In overtime we had a chance early and they had two really near ones where we had a bit of luck there,” Pieres said. “And then Nico managed to put it in.”
Both teams had two opportunities to win in in the extra chukker.
“It was a good game, it was four games inside of one game,” Marc Ganzi said. “They came out and got on top of us and then I think we dominated the third. They came very hard in the fourth and the fifth.
“We were down by four with four and a half minutes left, we just kept saying ‘we’re not going to quit, we’re not going to quit.’ I think we showed a lot of resolve to get the game tied. In overtime we had two really clean looks at goal and missed by a matter of inches. If you get two shots in overtime, sometimes that’s two shots too many. If you don’t make them and a good team like Flexjet, they had two shots, fortunately for them one of theirs went in. That’s polo. We pull shoes, the season’s over.”
Gonzalito and Nico Pieres each scored five goals. Andrade added two and Ganzi had one. Roldan led Audi with six goals, Polito Pieres had five and Marc Ganzi scored one.
The statistics were fairly even. Audi converted 8-of-14 and Flexjet 8-of-16 shots from the field. Audi was 4-of-4 at the penalty line and Flexjet was 5-of-6. Audi led in throw-ins, 14-13, and fouls, 10-7.
The loss also ended the hopes of Hall of Famer and former 10-goaler Mike Azzaro winning his tenth U.S. Open title that he was shooting for.
Flexjet, one of the strongest teams in the six-team tournament, is getting stronger with each game.
“We have said we are a good team and deserved to make it to the semifinals,” Gonzalito Pieres said. “Every game we play helps us get better. It is unfortunate. Two teams played today that deserved to be in the semis and we were eliminating each other.”
Ganzi is the only woman competing in the 26-goal U.S. Open, the final crown jewel of the Triple Crown in North America polo.
In the second game, U.S. Polo Assn., rated at 24 goals, was coming off losses to Audi and Valiente but was improving with each game and it showed against 25-goal rated Colorado, now 0-3, with other losses to Daily Racing Form and Flexjet.
Nero scored a game-high eight goals, including the game-winning 60-yard penalty conversion, and was named Most Valuable Player in the featured game. His horse, Micah, was Best Playing Pony for the second consecutive day. Micah was Best Playing Pony of the game Saturday at the $100,00 World Cup at Grand Champions Polo Club. Nero last appeared in the 2016 U.S. Open final for Orchard Hill.
Alejandro Novillo Astrada also scored one goal for U.S. Polo Assn. Cavanagh led Colorado with four goals. Britos had two and Laprida and Jornayvaz each had one goal.
Colorado was 6-of-15 and U.S. Polo Assn. 2-of-7 in field shot conversions. U.S. Polo Assn. converted 7-of-9 penalties and Colorado managed only 2-of-5. Colorado led in fouls, 12-8 and throw-ins, 14-5.
It is the first time in U.S. Polo Assn. history, the official brand of the USPA, is sponsoring a high goal polo team competing in the U.S. Open. Bollini is one of U.S. Polo Assn. Brand Ambassadors.
Bollini, 22, a senior at Florida Atlantic University, and Ganzi, 19, a sophomore at Lynn University, are making their U.S. Open debuts as regular starters on a high goal team. Audi, Grand Champions and U.S. Polo Assn. are Grand Champions Polo Club-based pro teams.
Valiente, winners of the 26-goal C.V. Whitney Cup and USPA Gold Cup tournaments, is riding a nine-game winning streak. Valiente is one tournament win away from capturing America’s Triple Crown in polo for the second year in a row.
USPA Polo Network is live streaming the U.S. Open with content provided by Wellington-based ChukkerTV.
The U.S. Open ends the four-month winter high goal polo season in Wellington.