By Alex Webbe

Valiente (Bob Jornayvaz, Matias Torres Zavaleta, Diego Cavanagh and Adolfo Cambiaso) took their first step toward securing a sweep of the top three tournaments in American polo by defeating the defending championship Orchard Hill (Polito Pieres, Juan Chavanne, Facundo Pieres and Steve Van Andel), 12-11, in overtime Wednesday afternoon in the first match of the 2017 United States Open Championship at the International Polo Club in Wellington.

Polito Pieres got Orchard Hill on the scoreboard in the opening seconds of the first chukker, converting a pass from teammate Facundo Pieres from the throw-in for the 1-0 lead. Adolfo Cambiaso leveled the score at 1-1 just a minute later with a goal from the field. Valiente 6-goaler Matias Torres Zavaleta was injured at the 4:04 mark of the period and was replaced by Pablo Spinacci. Facundo Pieres converted a 30-yard penalty shot for a 2-1 Orchard Hill edge. Jota Chavanne stretched the Orchard Hill lead to two goals, 3-1, with his first goal of the game before a pair of penalty conversions from Diego Cavanagh tied the game at 3-3. Polito Pieres scored his second goal of the period with just three seconds on the clock for a 4-3 Orchard Hill advantage.

Defenses tightened in the second chukker with Spinacci trying to work his way into the rhythm of the Valiente team. Polito Pieres made it 5-3, Orchard Hill, with his third goal of the game. Cavanagh cut the lead back to a single goal, 5-4, with the final score of the chukker.

Cavanagh scored on a 30-yard penalty shot to tie the game at 5-5in the opening minutes of the third. Facundo Pieres countered with a 60-yard penalty conversion, and Orchard Hill took back the lead, 6-5. Cavanagh scored the final goal of the chukker at the 2:54 mark in a fast-paced, hard-hitting contest for a 6-6 halftime score.

Chavanne scored a goal from the field just three minutes into the fourth chukker, 7-6, and teammate Polito Pieres extended the lead to two goals, 8-6, with his fourth goal of the day. Cambiaso scored the final goal of the period on an impressive individual effort, driving the ball through the goalposts as time expired. Orchard Hill continued to lead, however, 8-7.

Back-to-back goals from Polito Pieres boosted Orchard Hill into a 10-7 lead in the first minutes of the fifth period. A penalty goal from Cavanagh kept the Valiente hopes alive, ending the chukker trailing Orchard Hill by two goals, 10-8.

A determined Orchard Hill team saw Chavanne score just fifteen seconds into the sixth chukker, 11-8, when Valiente rallied. Cavanagh scored on a penalty shot and followed up with a goal from the field, 11-10. Orchard Hill continued to lead, but the momentum was with Valiente. Cambiaso drove the ball off of the goalpost for the final goal of the chukker, tying the game at 11-11 and forcing sudden-death overtime.

Following a brief intermission, both teams returned to the field ready to decide the game. The initial throw-in was controlled by Orchard Hill, and had Facundo Pieres breaking loose with the ball and heading for the Valiente goalposts. A bouncing ball got away from Facundo Pieres, and a trailing Valiente player reversed the field and sent his teammates attacking Orchard Hill. An Orchard Hill foul with 5:44 on the clock sent Cavanagh to the 40-yard mark where he converted the 40-yard penalty shot for the winning goal in overtime, 12-11.

Cavanagh led the field with nine goals (six on penalty conversions). Cambiaso added three goals for the win. Polito Pieres led the Orchard Hill offense with six goals. Chavanne was credited with three scores while Facundo Pieres was held to just two goals, both on penalty shots.

First round action continues in the US Open on Thursday with an 11am game between Audi (Marc Ganzi, Nic Roldan, Alejandro Novillo Astrada and Magoo Laprida) and Flex Jet (Melissa Ganzi, Rodrigo Andrade, Gonzalito Pieres and Nico Pieres) followed by a 5pm contest featuring Coca-Cola (Gillian Johnston, Julian de Lusarreta, Julio Arellano and Miguel Astrada) and Travieso (Teo Calle, Alfredo Capella, Sebastian Merlos and Mariano Gonzalez).
Photos by Alex Pacheco

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