Competing for the largest polo title on the West Coast, four powerhouse teams advanced to Thursday’s Silver Air Pacific Coast Open Semifinal doubleheader on August 30, at the Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club in Carpinteria, California. Featuring the Obregon brothers, Facundo and Geronimo* on opposing teams, the first semifinal saw aggressive plays by Lucchese to conquer Restoration Hardware 10-8, while Klentner Ranch secured their 7-6 victory over Sol de Agosto in a thrilling final 30 seconds of play. Lucchese will challenge Klentner Ranch this Sunday, September 2, at 6:30pm ET as Lucchese’s team owner John Muse looks for his fifth tournament title and Klentner Ranch searches for redemption from last year’s final defeat.
LUCCHESE KNOCKS OUT TOURNAMENT FAVORITE RESTORATION HARDWARE
Part of a three-way record tie for semifinal placings, Lucchese challenged bracket leader Restoration Hardware (RH) for the first spot in the Silver Air Pacific Coast Open Final. Having lost to RH by a narrow one-goal margin during their first matchup in bracket play, Lucchese came to the field with a hunger for redemption and an explosive offensive strategy, earning them the win 10-8.
Marked by penalty conversions, the first half developed slowly as both teams played a tight game. Coming out strong from the first chukker, Lucchese expertly read the plays and operated as a cohesive unit, claiming the first field goal off a beautiful run by Jeff Hall. Capitalizing from the Penalty 2 line four times, Facundo Obregon’s precision enabled Lucchese to maintain the lead 5-3 headed into the third. As the pressure increased, both teams struggled to put the ball between the posts, charging end to end without success. Fighting through an aggressive defense, RH’s Santi Von Wernich swung through Hall’s hook to score the first of two unanswered field goals, which leveled the scoreboard 5-all at halftime.
Continuing their assault, Lucchese demonstrated their teamwork and unrivaled offensive prowess with three consecutive field goals in the fourth, silencing RH in their wake. “We knew we had to play six full chukkers and not be down a chukker to win,” Hall commented after the game. “Today we played six chukkers so I’m really happy to be going to the final.” On a powerful breakaway from a throw in, Hall sunk a stunning neckshot followed by an equally impressive run by Toly Ulloa. Retaliating in the fifth, RH quickly made their comeback a reality with two pivotal Penalty 2 conversions off the mallet of Iñaki Laprida. Relentless from the beginning until the final horn of the sixth chukker, Lucchese continued their strong offensive drives downfield, intercepting and assuming possession of the ball. Scoring for the fifth and final time, Hall ended the sixth for Lucchese 10-8, cementing their place in the final.
Enlisting the expertise of coach Joe Henderson for the Silver Air Pacific Coast Open, Lucchese’s John Muse wanted to gain an edge on the highly-competitive teams at their peak in this tournament. “You have to go through a lot of good, even teams to get to the semifinals,” Muse said. “Any little thing we can do helps and Henderson’s ability to see what we cannot on the field has proved very helpful.”
KLENTNER RANCH ON TARGET TO AVENGE LAST YEAR’S LOSS
Fresh off a fierce matchup in which Sol de Agosto defeated them in overtime, Klentner Ranch was determined not to let their chance at the title slip away in the second semifinal. Despite losing Justin Klentner early on in the game to a hand injury, Klentner Ranch quickly rallied around their substitute Alonso Cruz Andrade, who scored the decisive goal sending his team to the final 7-6.
Choppy throughout the first half of play, both teams missed several shots on goal that fell wide, resulting in a relatively low scoring semifinal. Sinking the first Penalty 2 of the day, Jesse Bray’s* opening goal was answered by Adam Snow. Picking up a pair of goals in the second, Sol de Agosto players mobilized strategically, Francisco de Narvaez covering the man so Paco de Narvaez could run the ball to goal. Characterized by frequent stopping, the third proved futile for both sides, Klentner Ranch playing without a mallet until his substitute would be allowed in the game after halftime. Both teams still scoreless when the horn sounded, the half ended 3-2 in favor of Sol de Agosto.
Returning in the fourth with renewed strategy, the teams began to play open polo in the second half, although goals were still few and far in between. Showcasing confidence in their youngest player, Nico Escobar, Sol de Agosto gave him many opportunities to carry and pass the ball, leading to his first goal in the fourth. Leveling the playing field in the fifth, both teams gained momentum with every passing chukker, Klentner Ranch gaining the edge in the final two periods.
Pulling ahead by one in the sixth, Klentner Ranch thought they had the win until Snow tied up the scoreboard once again with only 2:22 left on the clock. Unwilling to force the game into another overtime, Bray made a run with under a minute to go, shooting the ball up to sub Cruz Andrade who raced past the competition and calmly flipped the shot into goal to seize the second semifinal position 7-6. “We’ll have to play almost a perfect game to beat Lucchese,” Bray said. “We just have to play our style of polo, relax and enjoy the moment. It’s not every year that you get to play in the PCO final.”
Playing 8- and 12-goal in Indio, California, with Danny Walker, Cruz Andrade revealed that it was his first time playing 16-goal polo. “It was amazing to score the winning goal!” 18-year-old Cruz Andrade exclaimed. “Today was my first time filling in for them and I was able to help them get to the final again this year.”
The USPA Polo Network will livestream the Silver Air Pacific Coast Open Final Sunday, September 2, at 3:30pm ET. For fans who want to attend the game in person, tickets can be purchased at www.sbpolo.com.
*Geronimo Obregon, Remy Muller and Jesse Bray are members of Team USPA. Team USPA is a USPA program designed to enhance and grow the sport of polo in the United States by identifying young, talented American players and providing mentored training and playing opportunities leading to a pool of higher rated amateur and pro players and the resultant giveback to the sport of polo.
All photos ©David Lominska