Seeking an undefeated finish, Hardscrabble (Mason Lampton, Hope Arellano*, Alan Martinez, Polo Baez) faced a determined Panakeia (Jewel Gregoncza, Jack Whitman, Pelon Escapite, Del Walton) team, in a thrilling overtime finale in the Regional President’s Cup on Sunday, June 7, at New Bridge Polo & Country Club in Aiken, South Carolina. Panakeia’s lone loss in the tournament came to Hardscrabble, but trailing by two entering the final chukker, the team in blue scored the final three goals of the game, including a Golden Goal from Del Walton to capture the tournament victory 9-8 and priority entry into the National President’s Cup.
“Playing in the National President’s Cup was definitely a driver for us playing in the Regional President’s Cup. Pelon [Escapite] and I played with Stacie Simpkins and Dennys Santana in last year’s National President’s Cup and lost in the final by two. We are very excited to have a chance to return this year to play in it again!” – Jack Whitman
Panakeia’s Del Walton tries to stay in control as Hardscrabble’s Hope Arellano reaches for the hook. ©Katie Roth
Producing a strong team effort from the opening play, Panakeia raced out to an early lead after Jewel Gregoncza opened the scoring, converting her opportunity in the number one position. Relying on consistent contributions from all four players in the first two chukkers, Panakeia held the edge over Hardscrabble, scoring four field goals, including two off the mallet of Escapite. “Our strategy was to play our game and not try to run past them because they had good horses,” Escapite said. “We needed to rotate and pick up the closest man.” Managing just one Penalty 2 conversion, Hardscrabble found themselves trailing 4-1 against a tough Panakeia team that was excelling on both sides of the ball. Before the end of the half, Hardscrabble demonstrated why they were undefeated, scoring three quick goals to pull within just one goal. Martinez was the driving force for Hardscrabble, leaving the final to be decided in the second half.
Panakeia’s Pelon Escapite and Hardscrabble’s Alan Martinez battle for possession of the ball. ©Tessa Callaghan Lord
Finding their stride from the field, Hardscrabble completed their comeback on Martinez’s third goal of the game, displaying the prolific offense from Hardscrabble that had yet to score less than 12 goals in any of the previous tournament games. Building on their momentum, Hardscrabble pressured the Panakeia defense, forcing them into foul trouble in the fifth chukker. Two crucial Penalty 4 conversions from Martinez left Hardscrabble one chukker away from the victory, holding an 8-6 advantage. Undeterred, Panakeia used their exceptional defense to keep Hardscrabble off the scoreboard in the sixth, allowing them to pull within with Escapite’s third goal of the day. The game on the line, Escapite converted a final Penalty 4, sending the game into overtime.
Best Playing Pony was awarded to Cinco de Mayo, played and owned by Hope Arellano and pictured with Edwin Cordova. ©Katie Roth
A tense start to overtime left Panakeia unable to capitalize on two safeties, however their relentless play was rewarded as Del Walton, picking up a broken knock in, scored the golden goal at 6:25 to give Panakeia the thrilling 9-8 victory. “Alan Martinez had the knock in, and he went to run by me and I guess he missed it and I was able to turn around faster, touched the ball twice and scored,” Walton said reliving the moment during which he rode his homebred Quiana. For his overtime heroics, Walton was awarded Most Valuable Player. Not only acknowledging the hard work and tenacity of his teammates, Walton thanked Panakeia’s sponsors behind the scenes, Keith Whitman and Chase Butler, who made the whole team possible.
Best Playing Pony honors were presented to Hope Arellano’s first and fifth chukker steed, Cinco de Mayo, an eight-year-old bay mare purchased from Justin Pimsner three years ago. “Cinco de Mayo played for my dad [Julio Arellano] and he has now given her to me! Her mother was a mare from Owen Rinehart named Salsa. I have been playing her for about two years now and she has turned into one of my best mares! She is so powerful and handy. I am so fortunate to be able to have her in my string,” Arellano gushed.
Panakeia’s Jack Whitman keeps his eye on the ball. ©Tessa Callaghan Lord.
“Pelon [Escapite] and I decided that if we won, we would give the prize money to our grooms. They are amazing to have on our team and have been working really hard. Like many people, it was hard on them when polo stopped in the middle of the Florida season and it was great to be able to gift them the prize money.”” – Jack Whitman
In addition to the victory, Panakeia also received $2,500.00 in prize money from participating in the COVID-19 USPA Polo Tournament Stimulus Package. “Pelon [Escapite] and I decided that if we won, we would give the prize money to our grooms,” Whitman commented. “They are amazing to have on our team and have been working really hard. Like many people, it was hard on them when polo stopped in the middle of the Florida season and it was great to be able to gift them the prize money,” he continued.
This Regional President’s Cup win signals priority entry for Panakeia into the prestigious National President’s Cup which will be held this fall, where they will look to follow in the footsteps of Derry Heir, who captured both the Regional and National President’s Cup titles in 2019 at New Bridge. “Playing in the National President’s Cup was definitely a driver for us playing in the Regional President’s Cup,” Whitman recounted. “Pelon and I played with Stacie Simpkins and Dennys Santana in last year’s National President’s Cup and lost in the final by two. We are very excited to have a chance to return this year to play in it again!”
*Hope Arellano is a member 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.
* 2020 Regional President Cup Finalists: Hardscrabble (Polo Baez, Alan Martinez, Hope Arellano, Mason Lampton) pictured with Panakeia (Jewel Gregoncza, Jack Whitman, Del Walton, Pelon Escapite). ©Katie Roth