By Alex Webbe
It was a game like no other and put an exclamation mark at the end of an exciting 20-goal summer season at the Greenwich Polo Club as the home White Birch team (Santino Magrini, Hilario Ulloa, Mariano Aguerre and Peter Brant rebounded from an early seven goal deficit to defeat an impressive Audi foursome (Marc Ganzi, Leo Mandelbaum, Nic Roldan and Sebastian Merlos for a 12-11 overtime win in the final of the 2016 East Coast Open Championship.
Both White Birch and Audi had sailed through preliminary play with identical 4-0 records, and no team was more anxious for the rematch than White Birch. Audi won the 2015 East Coast Open Championship, a title they earned in overtime against this very same White Birch team.
Audi struck early with Sebastian Merlos scoring on a pass from the opening throw-in for the 1-0 Audi lead. Nic Roldan scored back-to-back goals from the feild as a bewildered White Birch team appeared stunned by Audi’s aggressive lightning attack. Hilario Ulloa finally got White Birch on the scoreboard with a 60-yard penalty conversion but it was Audi with the early 3-1 lead.
Audi continued to dominate play in the second chukker with Roldan adding a 40-yard penalty conversion as the result of an uneven ride-off against White Birch, 4-1. Goals from Merlos and Marc Ganzi went unanswered as Audi rode off the field at the end of the second period with a commanding 6-1 advantage.
Roldan opened the scoring in the third period with a short penalty goal and a goal from the field as the Audi lead grew to seven goals, 8-1. Mariano Aguerre scored White Birch’s second goal of the match, 8-2. Roldan’s sixth goal of the day came on a 30-yard penalty conversion that had Audi in front by seven goals, 9-2. Foul trouble cost Audi a pair of goals to end the chukker with Ulloa converting from 30-yards and 60-yards. Audi continue to lead but the White Birch attack was stirring. At the end of the first half Audi was riding a five goal lead, 9-4.
White Birch made some halftime adjustments in an effort to get back into the game, and the changes began to work. Sixteen-year-old Santino Magrini was sent after Audi’s Leo Mandelbaum in an effort to keep him from harassing Ulloa and Aguerre. It was felt that if Ulloa and Aguerre were free to operate they could both slow down Roldan and put some White Birch goals on the scoreboard. Aguerre also felt that they had to control the pace of the game. If Audi was allowed to continue to hit and run, White Birch would be ahrd pressed to stage a comeback.
As the fourth chukker got underway, the strategy began to work. Ulloa scored the first goal of the second half on a 60-yard penalty shot that was followed up with a goal from the field from Santino Magrini. Ulloa closed out the chukker scoring on a pass from Aguerre while Audi was held scoreless. Audi continued to lead but the momentum had shifted and White Birch trailed by just two goals, 9-7.
A fifth chukker foul by Audi sent Ulloa to the penalty line where he attempted another 60-yard penalty shot. The attempt was blocked by an Audi player with the ball being redirected over the endline. The resulting Penalty 6 sent Ulloa back to the 60-yard line where he converted, cutting the Audi lead to a single goal, 9-8. Merlos attempted to right the ship, scoring his third goal of the match for a 10-8 Audi edge. Ulloa took advantage of yet another Audi foul, however, converting from 30-yards out. After five periods of play Audi was struggling to hold on to a fragile one goal lead, 10-9.
Ulloa broke away from Merlos in the sixth to score his eighth goal of the afternoon, and level the score at 10-10. Merlos followed up on a penalty shot of his own (Penalty 5), racing down the field for the score and givng the lead back to Audi, 11-10. Penalties continued to plague the Audi team with Ulloa retuning th the penalty line where he converted a 40-yard shot to deadlock the score at 11-11. With 32 seconds on the clock, White Birch team captain Peter Brant suffered an injury away from the play and was replaced by a young Justin Daniels. In a dramatic effort by Daniels, the young player broke loose with seconds on the clock in a dash down the feild, but the final horn sounded with Daniels short of the Audi goal, resulting in a sudden-death overtime chukker.
After a brief intermission allowing both teams to acquire fresh monts, Audi and White Birch returned to the field. Following the throw-in, Roldan broke away with the ball and raced toward the White Birch goal. A shot from the American 8-goaler went just wide, however, and the game continued. White Birch mounted an attack on the Audi goal and with Roldan attempting to clear the ball across the goal mouth, Magrini connected on a well-executed backhander that sent the ball through the golaposts and gave the 12-11 overtime win to White Birch.
Ulloa led alls scoring with nine goals (seven on penalty conversions). Magrini scored twice and Aguerre added a goal for the win. Roldan’s six goals (three from the penalty line) set the offensive pace for Audi and earned him MVP honors. Merlos was credited with four goals and Ganzi scored once.
Aguerre’s fifth chukker pony, Machitos Bersuit, was named Best Playing Pony.