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Facundo Pieres and Hilario Ulloa

Ezequiel Martinez Ferrario and Sterling Giannico.

Facundo Pieres.

Facundo Pieres and Julian Mannix

Polito Pieres and Sterling Giannico

Freddie Mannix and Segundo Merlos

Freddie Mannix and Facundo Sola

Facundo Sola

Facundo Sola, Segundo Merlos and Rodrigo Andrade

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Photographs may be used free of charge only in relation to the PMG press releases they pertain to.

One Point Lands Audi and Orchard Hill in USPA Piaget Gold Cup Finals

Written by: Alannah Castro & Darlene Ricker
Client: International Polo Club Palm Beach
Release Date: 2015-03-18

Audi Takes Las Monjitas Down to the Wire, 13-12

With both of Wednesday’s semifinal matches ending 13-12, Orchard Hill defeated Alegria in overtime and Audi bested Las Monjitas in the USPA Piaget Gold Cup at the International Polo Club (IPC).

Las Monjitas                        Audi                     
*Segundo Merlos   A              Marc Ganzi/Grant Ganzi   1                
Facundo Sola   8T                  Rodrigo Andrade   9                
Sebastian Merlos   9              Gonzalito Pieres   9                
Eduardo Astrada   9               Fred Mannix   6            
*Segundo Merlos substituted for Camilo Bautista

Try to imagine being 16 years old and getting the news that you have to play in the prestigious 26-goal USPA Piaget Gold Cup Final – and you have just three days to get ready.

Welcome to Grant Ganzi’s world. In the fifth chukker of Wednesday’s semifinals between Audi and Las Monjitas, he suddenly found himself having to sub into the number one position for Audi, which went on to defeat the powerful Las Monjitas team 13-12. His father, Marc Ganzi, had been playing the position – and playing it extremely well – until he injured his shoulder.

“I had never been in a situation like this in my life,” said Grant Ganzi, a junior at St. Andrew’s School. “There was a lot of pressure on my back, and it was really hard. Going in cold is never easy, but I had to be here and be ready. I’ve been ready for three months in case, God forbid, something should happen to my dad. When he fell off, I knew I had to do it, and mentally I couldn’t let it get to me.”

If it did, it certainly didn’t show. Grant Ganzi did a masterful job of controlling his nerves as he held his own on the field with the top players in the world. The match was power polo at its ultimate.

The game opened with an automatic point for Audi based on its 25-goal handicap. Two goals by Gonzalito Pieres and one each by Facundo Sola and Sebastian Merlos brought Audi into a 3-2 lead in the first chukker. In the first 30 seconds of the second chukker, Sola – who has a penchant for coming in hot out of nowhere – ran the ball down the field with supreme confidence as Merlos warded off a tribe of determined defenders. Sola slammed the ball through the goal posts, tying the score at 3-all, and followed up with two more goals in quick succession to move Las Monjitas into the lead. With 18 seconds left in the chukker, Fred Mannix tied the game at 5-all.

In what seemed like a flash, Las Monjitas shot into a two-point lead. In the first play of the third chukker, Pieres lost control of the ball to Sola, who made a run for the money and took a half-shot on goal. Pieres snatched the ball from the goalmouth, drawing a whistle. Las Monjitas picked up a point on a penalty one (to be followed by another in the next chukker). Eduardo Astrada scored on the subsequent shot, turning the initial play into a two-for-one for his team. He gave a repeat performance in the fourth chukker with five seconds left on the clock. Astrada was going for goal with Pieres in pursuit when the whistle blew, resulting in another Audi technical. Once again, Astrada made the goal, bringing Las Monjitas into a 10-7 lead.

Scoreless in the fourth chukker, Audi poured it on in the fifth and sixth, winning several throw-ins and making six more goals (all but one by Pieres). Las Monjitas came back with two goals (one by Sola and the other by Segundo Merlos, the other teenager in the match).

With two-and-a-half minutes left in the fifth chukker and Las Monjitas leading 11-9, Grant Ganzi found himself catapulted into the game, playing against another talented teenager, Segundo Merlos, both of them mixed in with a slew of professional powerhouses. Sola, an 8-goaler, made five goals total in the match, performing as skillfully as his 9-goalers teammates Astrada and Sebastian Merlos. Sola tied the game at 12-all with a minute-and-a-half left in the final chukker. A final penalty goal by Pieres topped off the day for Audi.

Segundo Merlos was playing in place of Camilo Bautista, a strategic repositioning on the part of Las Monjitas, which had lost 16-12 in bracket play against Audi last week.

“They played without Camilo, and they had a different tactic,” said Pieres. While Bautista normally doesn’t come to the ball after a hit, he said, “They were sending Segundo in when it was hit.” Also, he said, normally one of Audi’s best plays is made on the throw-in. “But they were blocking the field really well from us. They were dominating a bit in the beginning, and we weren’t playing our best polo. But we knew our team was set to be in the final.”

In Marc Ganzi’s view, it was a game well fought by both teams. “Kudos to them – they played a hell of a game,” he said. “They learned a lot from the last time they played us, and today they were ready to play.”

He added that he was proud of his son for subbing in for him. “Grant came in and played well, really poised. All season we’ve told him to be ready, and unfortunately today he got the call. But he was ready for it. He’s been playing great all season. Now he has three days to get ready, learn the horses and be super committed.”

After the match, he gave his son marching orders for the rest of the week: “You’ll get up at 5:30 in the morning, ride horses, go school, and come home and ride more horses. We have three days to figure out which ones play best for you.”

Mannix, meanwhile, was still in the moment. He said he felt like he was floating. “You always want to be in the finals, and (being in) the final for the Gold Cup is amazing!” he said. “It was a good team effort. I'm very happy with the team and very happy with the horses – it was just a beautiful ending to a very tough game.”

Orchard Hill Plays With Swagger
Defeats Alegria Assist Card 13-12 in OT

Orchard Hill defeated Alegria Assist Card 13-12 in overtime in the semifinal of the USPA Piaget Gold Cup at the International Polo Club Palm Beach.

Orchard Hill                           Alegria Assist Card
Steve Van Andel   A               Julian Mannix   4
Ezequiel Ferrario   7               Hilario Ulloa   9
Polito Pieres   9                      Mariano Aguerre   9
Facundo Pieres   10               Sterling Giannico   4

In the highly anticipated semifinal match-up of Alegria Assist Card against Orchard Hill, Alegria Assist Card leapt into action out of the first throw-in to drive the ball downfield for a goal attempt. After the shot went wide, Orchard Hill used every player to get the job done and score the first goal of the match. Facundo Pieres then converted to give Orchard Hill a 2-0 lead.

Hilario Ulloa made an incredible defensive play, taking the ball out of the goalmouth with mere inches to spare and shot the ball downfield to Mariano Aguerre. Julian Mannix sealed the deal to end the first chukker 2-1. Aguerre and Ulloa continued  to play on fire into the second chukker, making a breathtaking run to goal. Ulloa sank another goal before Ezequiel Ferrario fired back with a goal of his own to tie the score 3-3.

The game remained fraught with suspense in the third chukker with strong defensive plays on both sides. Mannix took advantage of a missed backshot to tap a goal in on the run and take the lead for Alegria Assist Card. Facundo Pieres completed another penalty conversion to tie the game again at the end of the third chukker.

Facundo Pieres showcased his penalty shooting skills to make the score 5-4 in favor of Orchard Hill, but Mannix had other ideas as he dodged defenders in the next play to score. A penalty one awarded to Alegria Assist Card put them in the lead momentarily. Polito Pieres went on a scoring streak, driving in back to back goals. Facundo Pieres solidified their lead by crushing a shot downfield to end the fourth chukker.

Ulloa kept Alegria Assist Card within striking distance with a goal, and in the next play, things got Western. A penalty against Alegria Assist Card was met with heated debate, ultimately resulting in a penalty two, which Facundo Pieres converted to make the score 9-7. Ferrario accelerated into a breakaway to receive a backshot pass from Facundo Pieres and score. Ulloa sank a penalty conversion to make the score 10-8. Polito Pieres ran the ball through heavy traffic to score and end the fifth chukker.

Alegria Assist Card got busy in the sixth chukker, with Mannix and Aguerre assisting Ulloa in sequential goals. Mannix took the ball nearly end to end to tie the score 11-all. Facundo Pieres nabbed the ball out of the throw-in and demonstrated his incredible ball control down the field effortlessly sending it through the uprights to score. Ulloa responded with a run of his own to tie the game 12-12 and send it into overtime.

A penalty in favor of Alegria Assist Card seemed to foreshadow the conclusion of the match, but Orchard Hill had their ace in the hole. Polito Pieres stole the ball and drove downfield with the ball seemingly glued to the end of his mallet. He tapped the ball in with authority to score. With that goal Orchard Hill advanced to the final of the USPA Piaget Gold Cup.

For patron Steve Van Andel, all of their team's energy was focused on winning today's match.

"I haven't even thought of [the final]. I was just thinking about today," said Van Andel.

For Facundo Pieres, seeing his teammate/cousin score the final goal was thrilling.

"The last goal that Polito made, it was amazing," said Facundo Pieres.

The 26-goal USPA Piaget Gold Cup Final will be the 3 p.m. featured match at IPC, March 22, preceded by the Tesoro Cup subsidiary at noon. The 18-goal Liberty Cup Final takes place Thursday, March 19 at noon at IPC.


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