Story courtesy of International Polo Club Palm Beach
Focusing on the second leg of the GAUNTLET OF POLO®, four teams made their debut in the 2021 USPA Gold Cup® beginning with Tonkawa defeating Aspen/Dutta Corp 10-7, while La Indiana returned to the win column, defeating Pilot 13-11 on the Isla Carroll East field at the International Polo Club Palm Beach in Wellington, Florida.
After seeing their hopes in the C.V. Whitney Cup® dashed after losing in the shootout, Tonkawa (Jeff Hildebrand, Lucas Escobar*, Sapo Caset, Francisco Elizalde) returned in the first game of Bracket I, controlling possession to capture their third victory of the season. Holding Aspen/Dutta Corp (Timmy Dutta*, Lucas Diaz Alberdi, Gringo Colombres, Stewart Armstrong) to zero field goals in the first half, Tonkawa were able to build a two-goal lead and maintain the gap throughout the second half due to a seven-goal performance from Sapo Caset. Aspen/Dutta Corp had their opportunities to match Tonkawa despite their struggles from the field, but three for seven shooting from the penalty line ultimately sealed their fate in the 10-7 defeat.
Tonkawa’s Francisco Elizalde just out of reach of Aspen/Dutta Corp’s Timmy Dutta. ©David Lominska
Entering the game as the leading scorer in the GAUNTLET with 7.7 goals per game, Caset continued his scoring pace with two goals in the opening chukker, while also adding an assist to erase the one-goal difference on handicap and leave the game tied 3-all. Aspen/Dutta Corp’s Dutta converted two Penalty 3 attempts, but it was the only offense his team could produce, held scoreless in the second and third chukkers as Tonkawa pulled ahead. Drawing attention from the Aspen/Dutta Corp defense, Caset sent a pass to Escobar to score his first goal of the game and then Caset capped off a strong first half with a Penalty 2 conversion to give Tonkawa the 6-4 lead at halftime.
Tonkawa’s Sapo Caset led all players with seven goals in the victory. ©David Lominska
End-to-end polo highlighted the start of the second half as the two teams combined for 10 shots in the fourth chukker. Stewart Armstrong was able to finally end the drought from the field for Aspen/Dutta Corp, scoring their first field goal of the game, but it was met by a swift response from Caset to keep Tonkawa ahead by two. Finding some momentum in the fifth chukker, Aspen/Dutta Corp began to pressure the Tonkawa defense as they pushed to close the gap and pull even, beginning with field goals from Dutta and Gringo Colombres. Trailing by just one, Aspen/Dutta Corp was just a step away from tying the score when Caset once again provided an answer for Tonkawa as the 10-goaler proved to be the difference maker in the game. The Tonkawa defense stepped up in the final chukker, holding Aspen/Dutta Corp off the scoreboard to complete the 10-7 victory.
In the second game of the day, an injury to Facundo Pieres forced Pilot to bring in a new line-up that included Lucas James and Matias Gonzalez, who returned to the Pilot line-up for the first time since 2019 when he was a part of the undefeated GAUNTLET OF POLO® team. Facing a difficult task in La Indiana, Pilot kept pace due to the accurate seven for eight penalty shooting from Gonzalito Pieres, but La Indiana was able to overwhelm Pilot in open play with a balanced attack, receiving goals from all four players while shooting above 50% in what turned into a high-scoring game. Holding Pilot without a field goal over the final four chukkers, La Indiana was able to overcome their foul trouble to narrowly edge Pilot and begin their USPA Gold Cup® with a 13-11 victory.
Pilot’s Lucas James filled in for the injured Facundo Pieres. ©David Lominska
Despite the changes to their line-up, Pilot raced out of the gate thanks to the play of Gonzalito Pieres, who accounted for both Pilot goals in the opening chukker while helping to prevent the potent La Indiana attack from scoring. That quickly changed in the second chukker after La Indiana scored on three consecutive shots at goal to erase the two-goal deficit and take a 3-2 lead. The momentum swung back and forth as Pilot, once again led by Pieres, produced a run of four straight goals to charge back into the lead, with the fast pace suiting Pilot’s style of play. Before the end of the half, the speed of the game slowed as La Indiana found themselves in foul trouble, committing five fouls that led to two penalty conversions for Pieres and a 7-6 lead at halftime for Pilot.
La Indiana’s Michael Bickford reaching for the ball under close watch from the umpire. ©David Lominska
Held without a shot for the second consecutive chukker, Pilot could no longer hold off a determined La Indiana attack that pulled even on Polito Pieres’ fourth goal of the game. With the teams tied at 8-8, the final two chukkers decided the outcome and it was La Indiana’s defense that emerged as the storyline. Pilot produced just one shot at goal throughout the entire second half, leaving their offense to come from the penalty line where Pieres continued to consistently convert. Adding three more penalty goals over the final two chukkers, Pieres kept Pilot even at 11-all with time running down. La Indiana’s ability to control open play ultimately won in the end however, as Polito Pieres and Hall scored two quick field goals to end the game and secure the hard-fought 13-11 win.
*Lucas Escobar and Timmy Dutta are Active 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.