By Alex Webbe
Argentine 9-goaler Gonzalito Pieres scored the first goal of the game to give Flexjet (Melissa Ganzi, Rodrigo Andrade, Gonzalito Pieres and Nic Roldan) the early lead, but it would be their last lead of the game as Coca-Cola (Gillian Johnston, Julian de Lusarreta, Julio Arellano and Miguel Novillo Astrada) team captain Gillian Johnston scored five times in leading her team to a 12-9 win in the final of the 2017 Butler Handicap Sunday afternoon at the International Polo Club.
Following Pieres’s opening goal, Gillian Johnston scored back-to-back goals for a 2-1 advantage. Pieres tied the game with his second goal of the game but a closing goal from Miguel Novillo Astrada ended the first chukker with Coca-Cola on top, 3-1.
Both defenses tightened in the second period with neither team able to coordinate an effective attack. Nic Roldan drove a long penalty shot toward the Coca-Cola goal with Brazilian 9-goaler Rodrigo Andrade knocking it through the goalposts for the only score of the chukker and a 3-3 tie.
Coca-Cola peeled off goals from Astrada and Johnston in third chukker play for a two-goal lead, 5-3. Pieres converted on a well-executed nearside backhander that cut the Coca-Cola lead back to a single goal, 5-4. Astrada’s second goal of the period was countered by a 30-yard penalty conversion from Pieres, ending the first half with Coca-Cola edging Flexjet, 6-5.
A determined Flexjet team took the field following the halftime intermission with Andrade rifling the ball through the Coca-Cola goalposts to deadlock the game at 6-6. Astrada countered with an 80-yard goal on a pass from teammate Julian de Lusarreta, followed bya penalty conversion from Julio Arellano. The Flexjet offense was held n check for the balance of the period, and trailed 8-6 after the first four chukkers.
Pieres and Arellano traded penalty goals as the fifth period got underway, 9-7, before Johnston scored on a pass from Arellano. The Coca-Cola lead had grown to three goals, 10-7with Flexjet struggling to find an answer. Pieres converted a 30-yard penalty shot for the final score of the chukker. Coca-Cola continued to lead, 10-8, with one period remaining in regulation play.
The Flexjet offense continued to press the attack but the Coca-Cola defense was up to the challenge. A 30-yard penalty goal from Pieres cut the Coca-Cola lead back to a single goal again, but that would e as close as they would get. Johnston scored her fifth goal of the game and Arellano tallied on a nearside neck shot to end the game with Coca-Cola riding away with the 12-9 victory.
Johnston scored a team-high five goals and was named MVP. Astrada added four and Arellano scored twice on penalty shots and once from the field for the win. Pieres scored four of his game-high seven goals from the penalty line. Andrade was credited with two goals in the loss.
Johnston’s horse, Luna, was honored as Best Playing Pony.