Competing against four other teams which came to challenge the tournament record holders for the prestigious East Coast Open, White Birch displayed their undeniable skill on the field which has led them to 12 Perry Trophy wins. Securing a narrow victory over the home team in their first meeting, Black Hound/Don Ercole (Will Tomita, Lucas Diaz Alberdi, Matias Magrini, Victorino Ruiz Jorba) faced White Birch (Chris Brant, Mariano Aguerre, Peke Gonzalez*, Pablo Llorente) once again in the East Coast Open Final which was rescheduled for Tuesday, September 15, due to rain. Gaining the advantage in the first and holding onto it throughout the game, White Birch cemented their thirteenth win 13-10 at their home base of Greenwich Polo Club in Greenwich, Connecticut.
White Birch’s Peke Gonzalez prepares for a powerful nearside shot.
Firing back-to-back goals, Llorente quickly landed White Birch on the scoreboard to open the game. “Our strategy was to play fast and move the ball,” Llorente said. “I think the key was that we were really good on defense. We defended every ball as if it was the last.” Capitalizing on a White Birch error, Ruiz converted a Penalty 2, but was matched just before the end of the first. The remainder of the first half proved to be a battle between the young Ruiz and Gonzalez, who each produced strong shots on goal. As the second chukker ended 4-3 in favor of White Birch, Gonzalez played his strongest chukker yet to extend the lead and claim three consecutive goals in the third. Taking advantage of another Penalty 2 opportunity, Ruiz inched Black Hound/Don Ercole closer with the score at halftime 7-4.
Black Hound/Don Ercole’s Toro Ruiz Jorba with a deep neckshot across the field.
Equally important as making field goals is the ability to consistently convert penalty shots, which Ruiz demonstrated twice in the fourth chukker. After four chukkers Black Hound/Don Ercole’s Diaz Alberdi was briefly able to equalize the scoreboard 8-all at the beginning of the fifth, but Aguerre’s offensive prowess was unflinching. Capturing three goals in rapid succession, Aguerre took back White Birch’s advantage 11-8 to end the fifth chukker. Trading two field goals apiece in the final chukker, the teams remained separated by a three-goal disparity, Ruiz adding his seventh and eighth goals of the day. Sealing the win 13-10, White Birch inscribed their names on the Perry Trophy once again.
Winning his first East Coast Open, Gonzalez was especially thrilled to have won over Black Hound/Don Ercole in the final. “I think the big difference between the final and the first game was that the four of us played closer to our men during the entire final game,” Gonzalez commented. “We wanted to be really disciplined and be on top of them because Black Hound/Don Ercole is a very talented and tough team. We also tried to move the ball around a little more and play a more classic style of polo which I think worked very well for us.”
Most Valuable Player, Mariano Aguerre, leads the field on a breakaway.
Mariano Aguerre was named Most Valuable Player. “Winning the East Coast Open was the cherry on the cake for a great final of this particular season!” Aguerre said. “We learned from our defeat in the first game and that was a key for the final. We were able to beat a very good team and that was a result of teamwork and chemistry.”
Best Playing Pony Machitos Francisca, played and owned by Mariano Aguerre, presented by Ellie Molyneux, pictured with Elly Brien, Naca Nicora and Santi Moyano. ©Peter Michaelis
His own mare 7-year-old Machitos Francisca (Dolfina Cuarteto x Fantasia) received Best Playing Pony, played by Aguerre in the first and fifth chukkers. “She is a horse that we brought from Argentina last January,” Aguerre said. “She’s a great prospect and named after a great friend, Francisca Iraola.”
*Peke Gonzalez 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.
All photos ©Peter Michaelis for Greenwich Polo Club.