GREENWICH, Ct., September 13, 2016---In a wild finish, White Birch knocked off defending champion Audi, 12-11, in overtime Sunday to capture the USPA East Coast Open.
In front of a sellout crowd of 4,000 at windswept Greenwich Polo Club and worldwide ChukkerTV audience, 15-year-old Santino Magrini scored the winning goal to complete a remarkable second-half comeback by White Birch.
The highly-anticipated rematch of the battle of the unbeatens more than lived up to expectations as White Birch (Santino Magrini, Hilario Ulloa, Mariano Aguerre, Peter Brant/Justin Daniels) avenged last year’s 14-13 overtime loss to Audi (Marc Ganzi, Leo Mandelbaum, Nic Roldan, Sebastian Merlos) to finish the 20-goal, eight-team tournament undefeated at 5-0.
“The bottom line is the bad luck we had last year, we had good luck this year, that’s why we won it, it’s the only explanation I can find at this moment,” said the 47-year-old Aguerre. “Last year we should have won it and we lost, and today we probably should have lost and we won.”
White Birch has captured the historic tournament title three of the last four years and twelve times overall.
“We didn’t have a good game today, but we had a good comeback in the end,” Ulloa said. “Last year we deserved to win and this year we deserved to lose, but that is the way polo is.”
Audi, making its’ second major tournament appearance in the Northeast, finished 4-1.
NBC Sports Network will air a 60-minute taped broadcast on Saturday, Sept. 17 at 3 p.m.
In what looked like two completely different games, Audi dominated the first half with its quick, aggressive open play on lightning-fast horses, catching White Birch flat-footed for leads of 3-1 after the first, 6-1 after the second and 9-4 at the half. Audi held White Birch scoreless in the second chukker and Ulloa to three first-half goals, all from the penalty line while winning 7-of-9 bowl-ins.
“The first half was a nightmare,” said Ulloa, who will be raised to 10 goals in January. “We finished the first chukker and said ‘they are killing us, they are beating us everywhere, what should we do?’ We tried to change something in the second chukker and it was worse. The third chukker was even worse. It was like a nightmare for us but luckily we could fix it in the end.”
White Birch came out with a different strategy in the second half, slowing the game down, controlling the momentum and frustrating Audi into making mistakes.
"We knew if we kept on playing their running and hitting game we were going to get killed," Aguerre said. "We decided to not release the ball until one of our guys was free."
White Birch shut out Audi in the fourth chukker and outscored them 7-2 in the second half while holding Roldan scoreless. It was the first time Audi had been held scoreless in the tournament.
In the fourth and fifth chukkers, White Birch reeled off four consecutive unanswered goals to trail by only one, 9-8, before Merlos scored Audi’s first goal at the 3:36 mark for a 10-8 advantage in the fifth. Ulloa scored his sixth penalty goal to again trail by only one, 10-9, going into the furious sixth chukker.
By then it was anybody’s game. Ulloa got past Merlos to score the tying goal with 4:30 left. A minute later, Merlos scored on a penalty-five for an 11-10 lead with 3:14 remaining.
After both teams lost their challenges (Audi on Merlos' shading penalty and White Birch on ball placement), Ulloa scored his seventh penalty goal to tie the game at 11-11.
Merlos had an opportunity to put Audi back in the lead but missed an 80-yard attempt when it curved right of the goal post.
With 32 seconds left, Brant’s horse hit him in the face with his head and knocked the 69-year-old padron off-balance, sending him to the field in mid-gallop, injuring his left knee. After being attended to by paramedics, Brant, who founded the team and club in 1981, was unable to return to the field. He was replaced by Boca Raton St. Andrew’s High School senior Justin Daniels, 18, wearing blue jeans and Brant’s jersey. Daniels was coming off winning the USPA National Youth Tournament Series title for Zone 3. After Daniels cleared the ball out of a crowd down the sideboards and then overrode it, regulation time ended sending the game into sudden death.
White Birch never had the lead in the game until Magrini’s mallet found Roldan’s clearing backshot near the goal posts and slapped an open backhand for the winning overtime goal.
“I just closed my eyes and hit it,” said Magrini embraced by his father Matias afterwards. “That was the biggest goal of my life. I feel lucky that I could score the winning goal. It feels great to win. In the beginning they were killing us, then we played better and I think we finished pretty good.”
Roldan, America’s top player rated at 8 goals, finished with 27 goals for the tournament including six in the final, and was named Most Valuable Player. Ulloa led with a game-high nine goals, with only two from the field. Magrini added two and Aguerre had one. Merlos had four goals and Ganzi one for Audi.
Los Machitos Bersuit, a 9-year-old mare owned and ridden by Aguerre in the fifth chukker, was named Best Playing Pony. The award was sponsored by Wellington realtor Maria Mendelsohn.
In Saturday’s Tommy B. Glynn final, Faraway defeated Beluga, 13-10.
Audi of America and its’ 29 Tri-State Audi dealers is presenting sponsor. Audi and its’ U.S. dealers offer a full line of German-engineered luxury cars. AUDI AG is among the most successful luxury automotive brands globally. Audi broke all-time company sales records for the sixth straight year in the U.S. Audi was on display during the entire three-week tournament and took center stage in pre- and post-game ceremonies on Sunday.
ChukkerTV live streamed the entire ECO tournament. U.S. Polo Assn. sponsored the broadcast for the first time. U.S. Polo Assn. is the official global apparel brand of the USPA, the governing body for the sport in the U.S. since 1890.
The U.S. Polo Assn. brand carries an extensive collection of classically styled, high quality, casual clothing from polo shirts and tees to khakis and hoodies for men, women and children as well as watches, luggage, sunglasses, handbags and much more.
ChukkerTV, an independent media company based in Wellington, was the first to introduce state-of-the-art live streaming technology in January 2014 at Grand Champions Polo Club. One of the biggest highlights for polo players is the use of technology in live streaming, instant replays and team reviews.
The East Coast Open began in 1905 in Rhode Island and was played until World War I. It was resurrected in 1978 by former USPA President Donald Little at the Myopia Polo Club in South Hamilton, Mass. White Birch padron Peter Brant started hosting the tournament in the early 2000’s at Greenwich Polo Club.
The USPA was organized and exists for the purpose of promoting the game of polo, coordinating the activities of its member clubs and registered players, arranging and supervising polo tournaments, competitions, and games and providing rules, handicaps, and conditions for those tournaments, competitions, and games including the safety and welfare of participants and mounts.
2016 EAST COAST OPEN RESULTS/SCHEDULE
SATURDAY, AUG. 27: Goose Creek 15, Beluga 11; White Birch 12, Faraway 6.
SUNDAY, AUG. 28: Audi 11, Airstream 10; Postage Stamp Farm 12, Tupungato 7.
TUESDAY, AUG. 30: White Birch 14, Goose Creek 9.
WEDNESDAY, AUG. 31: Audi 13, Tupungato 7; Airstream 13, Postage Stamp Farm 7.
THURSDAY, SEPT. 1: Faraway 14, Beluga 9.
SATURDAY, SEPT. 3: Audi 16, Postage Stamp Farm 8; Airstream 11, Tupungato 9.
SUNDAY, SEPT. 4: Goose Creek 6, Faraway 5; White Birch 15, Beluga 10.
TUESDAY, SEPT. 6: Tommy B. Glynn Semifinals, Game 1: Beluga 10, Postage Stamp Farm 9; Faraway Polo 9, Tupungato 5.
WEDNESDAY, SEPT. 7: Audi 11, Goose Creek 6; White Birch 10, Airstream 8.
SATURDAY, SEPT. 10: Tommy B. Glynn Final, Faraway Polo 13, Beluga 10
SUNDAY, Sept. 11: ECO Final, White Birch 12, Audi 11 (OT).
By Arianna Delin, Sharon Robb