WELLINGTON, Fl., March 21, 2016---Flexjet, playing together as a team for only the fourth time, nearly dug itself out of a hole before running out of time and dropping a 12-9 decision to Orchard Hill Sunday in the USPA Gold Cup quarterfinals.
Coming off a major victory over previously undefeated and defending champion Audi, the foursome of Melissa Ganzi, Tincho Merlos, Sebastian Merlos and Nic Roldan had trouble getting untracked in the first half and paid dearly for it.
Unable to take advantage of Orchard Hill losing its top two players, 10-goalers Facundo Pieres (broken finger) and Polito Pieres (dislocated shoulder), Flexjet was unable to come out with the same intensity it had against Audi.
Nine-goaler Hilario Ulloa replaced Facundo Pieres to start the game and was a catalyst for Orchard Hill which held Flexjet scoreless in the first and third chukkers and built an 8-1 halftime lead.
With Orchard Hill leading 7-1 early in the third chukker, Polito Pieres was injured. His horse caught his right hoof in the ground and stumbled with both Pieres and the horse landing hard on the field.
Pieres suffered a third-grade dislocated shoulder and left for Michigan late Sunday to meet with doctors to see if the injury required surgery. After a few anxious moments the horse was able to get up on its own and was walked off the field.
Pieres was replaced by 8-goaler Lucas Criado, joining Ulloa as a sub. Both played well with teammates Steve Van Andel and Julian De Lussareta.
Trailing 9-1 early in the fourth chukker, Flexjet regained its composure, started playing the man and winning its throw-ins. Flexjet scored three unanswered goals to cut the lead to 9-4.
Flexjet continued to run the ball and open the game up in the fifth chukker. After missing a goal attempt and losing it second-half challenge on an illegal hooking call, Flexjet scored two more goals.
Flexjet continued to fight back in the sixth chukker behind Roldan's hot hand and three goals. With 3:15 left, Flexjet trailed by only three, 11-8, but could get no closer than the final score.
Orchard Hill will play defending champion Audi in Wednesday's semifinals at 4 p.m. In the first semifinal, Dubai plays Coca-Cola at noon.
Van Andel, the team's patron, said he will wait to hear the prognosis of the Pieres cousins before deciding on a lineup for the remainder of the tournament. Facundo expects to return to the team for Wednesday's semifinal round.
Ulloa scored a game-high seven goals bringing his tournament total to 20 goals and 102 overall for the IPC season. Pieres added three goals before leaving the game.
Tincho Merlos led Flexjet with five goals and Nic Roldan had three.
For the second game in a row, Flexjet dominated throw-ins, 16-10, but committed 14 fouls to Orchard Hill's 11.
Flexjet converted 6-of-10 shots from the field while Orchard Hill hit 7-of-13. Flex Jet converted 3-of-5 penalties and Orchard Hill 5-of-6.
In the other Sunday quarterfinal in front of a packed house at Engel & Volkers Field, Coca-Cola advanced into the semifinals with an 11-8 win over Lucchese.
Coca-Cola patron Gillian Johnston, one of only two women playing high goal polo at IPC, was named MVP. Johnston scored four goals and played well defensively. Coca-Cola's Miguel Novillo Astrada's horse, One, was selected Best Playing Pony.
Julio Arellano scored a game-high six goals for Coca-Cola. Sapo Caset led Lucchese with five.
After taking a 5-4 halftime lead, Coca-Cola extended its lead 10-7 at the end of the fifth and never trailed.
Team USPA's Todd Thurston replaced Lucchese patron John Muse, who was complaining of dizziness, in the second half and made his stadium debut. Thurston was coming off Palm Beach Illustrated/Team USPA's win in the $50,000 National 12-Goal Championship at Grand Champions Polo Club.
Coca-Cola converted only 8-of-17 field shots while Lucchese hit 5-of-11. Lucchese converted 3-of-4 penalties and Coca-Cola converted 3-of-5. Coca-Cola committed more fouls, 11-8, but won the throw-in advantage, 15-12.
The USPA Gold Cup is the second 26-goal tournament of America's Triple Crown in polo.
Flexjet, a valued sponsor, has been a member of the Directional Aviation family of companies since 2013. They are committed to creating premium travel experiences and providing access to the most modern, technologically-advanced aircraft in the industry on a daily basis, going above and beyond world-class private travel experiences.
Both quarterfinal games were livestreamed by ChukkerTV, leaders in polo broadcasting. Wellington-based ChukkerTV is exclusively live streaming International Polo Club Palm Beach and Grand Champions Polo Club games during the 2016 season with polo broadcasters Toby Wayman and Dale Schwetz calling the action.
Grand Champions is the nation's busiest and most innovative polo club with tournaments ranging from six to 20-goal.
Grand Champions Polo Club also features The Polo School, dedicated to teaching polo, particularly grass roots youth. Its mission is to provide individuals opportunities in polo. The Polo School operates in Wellington January through June and September through November.
GRAND CHAMPIONS 2016 WINTER SCHEDULE
16-Goal: Santa Rita Abierto, March 22, Tuesday, Travieso vs. Dutta Corp, noon; Casablanca vs. High Ground/GSA, 4 p.m.; March 24, Thursday, SD Farms vs. High Ground/GSA, noon; Postage Stamp Farm vs. Travieso, 4 p.m.; March 29, Tuesday, Santa Rita Handicap Final, noon; Semifinals, 2 and 4 p.m; April 2, Saturday, Final, 3 p.m.
12-Goal, Top Pony 12-Goal Series, March 23, Wednesday, Pony Express vs. Wildcat, 3:30 p.m.; March 26, Saturday, Pony Express vs. Flexjet, 11 a.m.; March 27, Sunday, Wildcat vs. Skaneateles, 10 a.m.; Beverly Polo vs. Heathcote, 10 a.m.; Whitehall Ranch vs. Palm Beach Polo, 1 p.m.; March 29, Tuesday, Wildcat vs. Flexjet, 3:30 p.m.; March 30, Wednesday, 1 p.m.; April 2, Saturday, Final, 1 p.m.; April, Museum of Polo and Hall of Fame Challenge Cup.
8-Goal, The Limited Edition 8-Goal Series: March 22, Tuesday, Odosan/Polologistics vs. Longfield Farm, 3 p.m.; March 25, Friday, Skaneateles vs. Odosan/Polologistics, 3:30 p.m.; March 26, Saturday, Smithfield vs. Longfield Farm, 1 p.m.; March 26, Saturday, Smithfield vs. Longfield Farm, 1 p.m.; April 2, Saturday, Final, 11 a.m.; USPA Regional President's Cup; April, USPA Association Cup.
6-Goal, Madelon Bourdain Memorial: March 23, Wednesday, Valiente vs. Grand Champions, 10 a.m.; March 24, Thursday, Smithfield vs. Horseware, 2 p.m., Pony Express vs. The Polo School, 4 p.m.; March 26, Saturday, Grand Champions vs. The Polo School, 10 a.m., Seacap vs. Horseware, 1 p.m.; March 28, Monday, Valiente vs. The Polo School, 4 p.m.; March 29, Tuesday, Seacap vs. Longfield Farm, 5 p.m.; March 30, Wednesday, Pony Express vs. Valiente, 3 p.m.; March 31, Thursday, March 31, Longfield Farm vs. Smithfield, 5 p.m.; April 3, Sunday, Final, 11 a.m.; April, Las Acacias.
GRAND CHAMPIONS POLO CLUB
WHERE: 13444 Southfields Road, on the corner of South Shore Boulevard and Lake Worth Road, Wellington, 33414.
DIRECTOR OF POLO: Juan Olivera, 561-644-5050, firstname.lastname@example.org; hotline 561-373-0073.
INFORMATION: For spectators, there are great field side views for tournament action and also the Grand Champions Polo Club Boutique. The club is home base for pro teams Audi and Flexjet. Everyone is welcome to watch every level of polo in a relaxed atmosphere that includes a complimentary Argentine asado by Cilantro's during the Saturday featured games of the winter, spring and fall tournament seasons and other special events. Admission is free except for some special events.