Story courtesy of International Polo Club Palm Beach
The second round of play in Bracket I of the 2021 USPA Gold Cup® produced the first set of semifinalists in the tournament after Tonkawa (Jeff Hildebrand, Lucas Escobar*, Sapo Caset, Francisco Elizalde) defeated Cessna (Camp Campbell, Ezequiel Martinez Ferrario, Mariano Obregon Jr., Jared Zenni*) 9-7 and Park Place (Jack Whitman*, Juan Britos, Hilario Ulloa, Matt Coppola*) captured the 10-6 win over Aspen/Dutta Corp (Timmy Dutta*, Lucas Diaz Alberdi, Gringo Colombres, Stewart Armstrong). With the victories, Tonkawa and Park Place improved to 2-0 records securing the top two seeds with the winner of the bracket to be determined when the two teams meet on Saturday at the International Polo Club Palm Beach in Wellington, Florida.
Tonkawa’s Lucas Escobar running with the ball. ©David Lominska
Facing a tough challenge from Cessna, Tonkawa captured their fourth consecutive win in the GAUNTLET OF POLO® as Caset continued his incredible scoring pace, finishing with eight goals while also assisting on his team’s ninth goal. Matching Tonkawa from the field, Cessna remained a step behind in the game by conceding three first half penalty goals to Caset which proved to be the difference in a match that came down to the final seconds. Converting just two of their final 11 goal shot attempts, Cessna fell just short in the narrow 9-7 defeat.
Playing in his second game, Camp Campbell found his footing at the 22-goal level, scoring two goals in the first chukker for Cessna as they held an early 3-2 lead after a two-goal response from Caset. Finding an effective strategy utilizing Campbell in the #1 position, Cessna added to their lead on Campbell’s third goal, while Jared Zenni converted a Penalty 2 with Cessna setting their sights on their first victory. Accounting for all five Tonkawa goals in the first half, Caset brought Tonkawa even in the third chukker with two goals, while their defensive pressure increased on Cessna, holding them scoreless to end the half tied 5-all.
Fighting hard to stay in the lead, Cessna was unable to hold off a determined Tonkawa team that held them off the scoreboard for the second consecutive chukker. With the chance to take their first lead of the game, Francisco Elizalde was on the receiving end of a Caset pass, edging Tonkawa into the lead at 6-5. Caset capped off the fourth chukker with Tonkawa’s fourth unanswered goal, leaving them ahead by two entering the final stages of the game. Resetting, Cessna’s Ezequiel Martinez Ferrario broke through from the field to gain some momentum and pull within one as their defense stepped up and held the potent Tonkawa attack without a goal in the fifth chukker, resulting in an exciting finish in the first game of the day. Just moments into the sixth chukker, Ferrario struck again, tying the game at 7-all, but it was short-lived as Caset stepped into the spotlight again. Restoring Tonkawa’s lead, time ticked down with Cessna trying urgently to send the game to overtime but a late Elizalde steal resulted in a breakaway for Caset and he sealed the 9-7 victory as time ran out.
Park Place’s Juan Britos preparing to hit the nearside backshot under pressure from Aspen/Dutta Corp’s Gringo Colombres. ©David Lominska
Looking to join Tonkawa at the top of Bracket I and secure a spot in the semifinals, Park Place produced a dominant performance against Aspen/Dutta Corp, heavily outshooting them 16-4 over the first four chukkers, not conceding a field goal until the fifth chukker. Park Place utilized a possession-based attack that saw guarded runs from Hilario Ulloa leading to six goals, with his teammates working effectively off the ball. An organized defense led by Matt Coppola limited any opportunities for Aspen/Dutta Corp as they were not able to find any offense until the final two chukkers in the 10-6 loss.
A back-and-forth start to the game displayed the two teams finding the pace and remaining tightly marked as the only goal in the first chukker came from Ulloa, tying the score at 1-1 with Aspen/Dutta Corp starting with a one-goal advantage on handicap. The Park Place offense came alive for the remainder of the second half, led by two goals from Juan Britos as part of a 3-0 second chukker that saw Aspen/Dutta Corp remain pinned in their own half, unable to break away for runs past the Park Place defense. Completing an exceptional first half, Ulloa and Coppola added one goal each for Park Place while holding Aspen/Dutta Corp scoreless, resulting in a 6-2 lead.
Team USPA Member Jack Whitman hitting a neckshot for Park Place. ©David Lominska
The relentless pressure of Park Place carried into the second half, outshooting Aspen/Dutta Corp 5-1 in the fourth chukker, but inaccurate shooting kept the deficit from growing significantly as Park Place extended their lead to five. Aspen/Dutta Corp’s struggles to maintain possession and generate enough scoring chances to match Park Place proved to be the story of the game. Finding a little bit of life in the fifth and sixth chukkers, Aspen/Dutta Corp traded goals with Park Place, receiving one each from Timmy Dutta and Stewart Armstrong, but faced a five-goal difference on the scoreboard with one chukker remaining. Two quick penalty conversions for Gringo Colombres raised some doubt to the outcome, but Ulloa received a Penalty 1 to seal the victory and send Park Place to the top of Bracket I with Tonkawa.
*Lucas Escobar, Jack Whitman and Timmy Dutta are Active Team USPA Members. Matt Coppola and Jared Zenni are Graduating Team USPA Members. 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.