Story courtesy of International Polo Club Palm Beach
After the excitement of Sunday’s C.V. Whitney Cup® Final, play began on Monday, March 8, in the USPA Gold Cup®, the second leg of the GAUNTLET OF POLO® with Coca-Cola (Gillian Johnston, Mackenzie Weisz, Diego Cavanagh, Julian de Lusarreta) using a determined defense in the second half to capture the 10-8 victory over Santa Clara (Will Johnston, Felipe Vercellino, Miguel Novillo Astrada, Luis Escobar) on Field 3 at the International Polo Club Palm Beach in Wellington, Florida.
Bringing in a substitute for 9-goaler Nico Pieres, who was averaging 6.8 goals per game, Coca-Cola was able to find quick chemistry with Cavanagh, who performed well with two goals and two assists while slowing Santa Clara’s attack. Coca-Cola struggled with penalty shooting in the early stages of the game but drove their offense forward with a balanced team effort in open play to narrowly edge Santa Clara in a game where all eight players found the scoresheet. After scoring consistently in the first half, Santa Clara had difficulties creating the same amount of scoring chances against a reorganized Coca-Cola defense that held them scoreless in the fourth and fifth chukker, ultimately leading to the 10-8 defeat.
Coca-Cola’s Diego Cavanagh, substituting for Nico Pieres, in a ride-off with Santa Clara’s Miguel Novillo Astrada. ©David Lominska
Stepping into Penalty 2 and 3 duties, Weisz converted a penalty on the opening drive of the game in what turned into a stop and start first chukker. A combined five penalty attempts were seen between the two teams, but Weisz’s early conversion was the only one that found its way through the posts, with Coca-Cola unable to convert any of their other four opportunities. Goals from Will Johnston and Escobar tied the score at 2-2 with Coca-Cola and Santa Clara continuing to trade goals throughout the first half, led by Weisz and Johnston, who pulled their teams forward. Gillian Johnston extended Coca-Cola’s lead to two with time running out in the first half, but back-to-back goals from Santa Clara’s Vercellino and Astrada restored the tie at 4-4.
Santa Clara’s Will Johnston led his team with three goals in the 10-8 defeat. ©David Lominska
With the game up for grabs, it was Coca-Cola that charged out of the halftime break with a relentless pressure that shifted momentum in their favor. Outshooting Santa Clara 5-0, Coca-Cola built a two-goal lead as Cavanagh made an impact with his second goal of the game while working effectively alongside de Lusarreta to stifle any counterattack. Defense continued to be the storyline of the second half as Santa Clara was kept off the scoreboard for the second consecutive chukker. Watching the deficit grow to three after a goal from de Lusarreta, Coca-Cola took control with one chukker remaining. Unwilling to concede defeat, Santa Clara began the sixth chukker with a determined focus to pull within reach. Two goals in quick succession from Astrada and Will Johnston left Santa Clara trailing by just one with time ticking down. Despite their best efforts, Santa Clara could not pull even as Gillian Johnston scored to seal the 10-8 victory.