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Press Release


Gillian Johnston, Ezequiel Martinez Ferrario and Sugar Erskine

Eziquiel Ferrario and Julio Arellano

Gillian Johnston, Facundo Pieres and Polito Pieres

Julio Arellano and Facundo Pieres

Nic Roldan

Juan Martin Nero and Miguel Novillo Astrada

Victor Vargas

Nic Roldan

Marc Ganzi and Mariano Aguerre

Hilario Ulloa and Rodrigo Andrade

Freddie Mannix

Freddie Mannix and Hilario Ulloa

Click on the above photos for details and a high resolution version.

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

The ‘Facundo Factor’ Propels Orchard Hill Into Semifinals

Written by: Alannah Castro & Darlene Ricker
Client: International Polo Club Palm Beach
Release Date: 2015-04-08

In a last-minute scramble, Orchard Hill defeated Coca-Cola 11-10, securing a spot in the semifinals of the 111th U.S. Open Polo Championship at the International Polo Club Palm Beach (IPC). Also Wednesday in bracket play for the Open, Alegria Assist Card beat Audi 10-5 and Lechuza Caracas defeated FlexJet 10-9 in overtime.

Coca-Cola                             Orchard Hill
Gillian Johnston   2                 Steve Van Andel   A
Sugar Erskine   6                    Eziquiel Ferrario   7             
Julio Arellano   8                     Polito Pieres   9
Pelon Sterling   10                  Facundo Pieres   10

The morning game at IPC could have played out as well on a precision driving course as it did on a polo field. In one of the fastest and most wide-open games to date in the 111th U.S. Open Polo Championship, Coca-Cola and Orchard Hill swarmed after each other like bees from a nest that had just burst open.

Determined to be the victor, both teams made a tremendous number of attempts on goal from start to finish. More times than you could count on two hands, just when it looked like in a definite goal was in the works, the ball bounced off the goalpost or went wide.

The most excruciating instance of that came moments before the final horn. With Orchard Hill leading by a point, Sugar Erskine passed the ball to Gillian Johnston. She was just about to tap it into goal to tie the game when Facundo Pieres lunged defensively toward the ball, like a mother mountain lion protecting its cub. That triggered a whistle, which drew a look of absolute astonishment from Facundo Pieres. Orchard Hill challenged the foul, but after a review on instant replay in the booth, it was upheld.

That gave Coca-Cola a second chance to tie the game. When Arellano rode up to take the penalty shot, it was a foregone conclusion that yet another U.S. Open match would go into overtime – but no. Normally a beacon of precision, he hit a smooth drive that looked bang-on for goal. But then, as if touched by an occult hand, the ball inexplicably veered a couple of inches wide. Spectators gasped and stared at the scoreboard in disbelief.

This was a game of inches (at times even millimeters) for both teams – and heartbreak for Coca-Cola. At the outset, a blur of red streaked across the field as then-undefeated Coca-Cola took an early lead. Its players were in a tight sync in the first chukker, and Coca-Cola racked up three goals to Orchard Hill’s one. Coca-Cola maintained a rollicking lead all the way through the first half, much of it thanks to Gillian Johnston, who made back-to-back goals in the first chukker and another in the third, all from the field.

Coca-Cola seemed to be sitting in the catbird’s seat, but it was not to be. The “Facundo factor” had been in stealth mode for the first few chukkers – not surprising, given that Facundo Pieres doesn’t exactly do cartwheels when he hears that he’s playing an early match. But once his morning mate kicks in, he’s unstoppable.

Patron Steve Van Andel conceded that Orchard Hill had gotten off to a slow start. “Then we got our team together,” he said. “We all played our positions and played the men, and it worked out great. But it was tough. They've all been tough. Coca-Cola's a tough team. They play hard.”

By the middle of the game, Facundo Pieres was a marked man. Arellano made it his mission to keep him out of the action, just as Las Monjitas had tried to do Sunday in its duel with Orchard Hill. But if ever there was a moving target in a polo helmet, it is Facundo Pieres. As he has shown throughout the 26-goal season, he is a master at playing “catch me if you can.” Refusing to be muscled by Coca-Cola, Facundo Pieres kept on dancing to goal Wednesday, intermittently checking over his shoulder as if to say, “Who’s there? Who cares?”

As so many opposing teams have learned the hard way, letting Facundo Pieres get to the penalty line is the kiss of death. A study in consistency, he scored on three penalty shots, one each in the second, third and fourth chukkers. He ignited the afterburners and made three additional field goals, one in the fourth, fifth and sixth chukkers. He was the only player to score in the fourth.

His scoring prowess aside, Facundo Pieres also knows how – and when – to share the wealth. He gave an unexpected assist to cousin Polito Pieres, who (with Sugar Erskine looking like he was going to leap into his hip pocket) tied the game at 4-all in the second chukker. Polito Pieres made it through several bumps and physical rideoffs with 10-goaler Pelon Stirling, who played a typically strong game throughout.

Two Facundo Pieres goals moved Orchard Hill into the lead for the first time in the fourth chukker, which ended 7-6. Coca-Cola tried mightily but never regained the lead. Arellano kept the fight alive for Coca-Cola in the fifth chukker with two goals, but Orchard Hill answered both of them. Each of the Pieres cousins scored in the final chukker, as did Erskine.

Coca-Cola implemented the exact strategy that Erskine had described as its plan in last Sunday’s matchup with Las Monjitas. Although Coca-Cola still got to the “W,” the plan didn’t fly that time. The idea had been for her teammates to feed the ball to Johnston, the indomitable winner of the 2002 U.S. Open, who would take it to goal, as she did repeatedly on Wednesday.

Coca-Cola’s strategy came as no surprise to Orchard Hill. “We knew it from the beginning of the game – they always do that,” said Facundo Pieres. “It was a little bit difficult for us to get Gillian. She scored in the first chukkers. She always gives the team two or three goals per game. We just wanted to keep her from scoring any, but she did score three, so she had a good game.”

In his estimation, Orchard Hill played better this time than it did Sunday. “After the first half we started to win the game, but it was tough,” he said. “I’m very happy that we won because now we’re in the semis, and that’s where we wanted to be.

Alegria Assist Card Closes out the Season with a Win
Audi Advances to US Open Semifinals with 2-1 Record

Alegria Assist Card used a balanced attack to defeat Audi in the last round of bracket play in the U.S. Open. Julian Mannix led the team with four goals scored and Sterling Giannico and Hilario Ulloa both scored three goals en route to the 10-5 victory.

Audi                              Alegria Assist Card
Marc Ganzi   1                Julian Mannix   4
Rodrigo Andrade   9        Hilario Ulloa   9
Gonzalito Pieres   9         Mariano Aguerre   9
Freddie Mannix   6          Sterling Giannico   4

Audi with a 2-0 record and Alegria Assist Card at 0-2 faced off in a third round bracket game where pride was at stake more than results. By the previous results in bracket play Audi had already qualified for the U.S.Open semifinals, Alegria had lost the ability to advance.

Sterling Giannico said after the game, "Even though we were out we wanted to play well. I am new to Florida and it was important to leave on the right foot. I think Audi tried to save horses and ended up not playing how they wanted."

From the first chukker it was evident that Alegria Assist Card was determined to finish out the season well. Giannico started the scoring off when he accepted a pass from Mariano Aguerre at midfield and outran the hook of the defender for the first goal. Julian Mannix added three more goals for Alegria Assist Card in the first half. Just as it looked like Audi would be held scoreless for the half, Gonzalito Pieres made a run for Audi to notch a point on the board and make the score 4-1 still in favor of the Alegria Assist Card heading into halftime.

Alegria Assist Card outscored Audi 3-1 in the fourth chukker to extend their lead to 7-2. The youngsters on Alegria Assist Card, Mannix and Giannico, were playing particularly well together, although Freddie Mannix had some breathtaking goal line saves for Audi to keep the game from becoming a route. Audi closed within four of Alegria Assist Card in the fifth with a pair of Pieres penalty goals, and Marc Ganzi added a penalty goal as well in the sixth chukker, but Hilario Ulloa and Giannico scored again for Alegria Assist Card to close out the match with a 10-5 victory over Audi and finish the U.S. Open with the victory for the defending champions. 

Audi, by virtue of defeating the other two qualifiers in Bracket II, has the coveted bye to the semifinals and will play again on Wednesday, April 15 in the U.S. Open semifinals at International Polo Club. Alegria Assist Card is out of contention for the qualifying rounds but proved that they are fighters to the end with the win today.

Lechuza Caracas Takes It Home
Defeats FlexJet 10-9 in Overtime

Lechuza Caracas defeated FlexJet 10-9 in overtime in bracket play for the 111th U.S. Open Polo Championship at Lechuza Caracas.

Lechuza Caracas                           FlexJet
Victor Vargas   A                             Melissa Ganzi   A
Agustin Garcia Grossi   7                Magoo Laprida   8
Nico Pieres   8                                 Miguel Astrada   9
Juan Martin Nero   10                      Nic Roldan   8

Lechuza Caracas had the home field advantage in its match against FlexJet, and the team used it to make a nail-biting comeback. Nic Roldan got the jump in play, shooting out of the throw-in to make the first point of the match for FlexJet.

In a match featuring some of the biggest hitters in the sport, spectators were treated to spectacular long passes as the teams battled for control. Passing was the name of the game for both teams as they played full-steam ahead. A penalty conversion by Agustin Garcia Grossi tied the score 1-1. Roldan immediately fired back with a goal to put FlexJet in the lead 2-1. After a goal attempt by Nico Pieres went wide, Roldan made an incredible backshot out of the air, showcasing his defensive skills as he did throughout the match.

Play continued at a brisk pace, with both teams evenly matched and playing a very physical game. Roldan played zone back, hopping on the ball as soon as it crossed into FlexJet territory. Magoo Laprida racked up two more goals to put FlexJet firmly in the lead.

Lechuza Caracas rallied with a goal attempt by Victor Vargas before Grossi picked up a broken play and drove in a goal to begin to close the gap. Juan Martin Nero, the sole 10-goaler on the field, tapped in a goal with Roldan in hot pursuit. Laprida tapped in a goal, allowing FlexJet to keep its lead intact before the half.

In the fourth chukker Lechuza Caracas was snake bitten around the goal, with attempt after attempt going wide, but strong defensive play kept it afloat. A penalty conversion by Roldan made the score 6-3 as he threaded the needle along the ground, weaving the ball through a wall of defending players to score. Vargas made an impressive run and shot the ball through the uprights to score before the end of the fourth chukker.

FlexJet switched modes into defense as the game wore on, sending the ball out of its territory with the ease of someone sweeping a floor. A conversion by penalty-shooting ace Pieres brought Lechuza Caracas within one as it cranked up the heat on FlexJet. One more shot made by Pieres, as he walked up in his signature style, retied the match 6-6. Roldan, never one to crack under pressure, responded with a stunningly fast breakaway to break the tie.

Pieres continued to gain momentum in the sixth chukker, making an amazing shot out of the air to score and tie the match yet again, 7-7. Roldan, whose performance in the match demonstrated why he is one of the sport’s most respected players, shot a pass to Miguel Astrada to score and then proceeded to drill one in himself to put FlexJet two goals up over Lechuza Caracas.

Grossi rocketed out of the throw-in to score and make overtime not only a possibility, but a probability. Vargas made what was undoubtedly the play of the game by engaging Astrada in the next play, giving Pieres the room he needed to tap the ball in and send the match into overtime. With the game on the line, Pieres stepped up to the plate, making a superb run down the field to score and end the overtime chukker less than two minutes in.

Nero felt that the team's strategy to open up the match and play forward worked out nicely. "Today we tried to open the game and use Victor more," said Nero. "I think it was a great game, and Victor played amazing."

Pieres knew that this match was going to be a tough one. "The thing was that we were both in (the quarterfinals), so it was a game for the horses. We couldn't play that hard, but we tried to open up the game and play more forward, nice polo."

The quarterfinals of the 111th U.S. Open Polo Championship will be held Sunday, April 12, with Lechuza Caracas playing Valiente at 11:30 a.m. and Coca-Cola taking on FlexJet in the 3 p.m. featured match on Engel & Völkers field at the International Polo Club Pam Beach.


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