WELLINGTON, Fl., April 20, 2017----Flexjet fought to the finish, giving defending champion Orchard Hill all it could handle before losing a heartbreaking 10-9 overtime game in Wednesday’s semifinals of the 113th U.S. Open at International Polo Club Palm Beach.
Flexjet (Melissa Ganzi, Rodrigo Andrade, Gonzalito Pieres and Nico Pieres) was the only undefeated team (3-0) in the six-team, 26-goal tournament going into the semifinal round.
It was the farthest Flexjet had advanced in the U.S. Open in team history.
Argentine 10-goaler Facundo Pieres, playing against his two brothers and with his cousin Polito Pieres, won the throw-in near the boards and followed up his 100-yard approach shot with a nearside tap with 2:33 left in overtime to clinch the victory with his 100th goal of the season on his favorite mare Corcha.
“First of all I was happy because it was going in and I didn’t have to do much,” Pieres said. “But then I looked back and I saw my brother’s face and he was sad. It was very tough and emotional for me.
“We were a little bit more lucky than them” Pieres said. “This game could have gone to anybody.”
Grand Champions Polo Club-based Flexjet, coming off a six-day rest, had defeated Audi (10-9), Travieso (11-9) and Valiente (10-9) in its first three games.
Orchard Hill (3-2), with losses to Valiente and Travieso, will make its third consecutive U.S. Open final appearance.
Facundo Pieres has won four U.S. Open titles in the last ten years including 2009 with Audi and teammates Marc Ganzi and brothers Nico Pieres and Gonzalito Pieres.
Flexjet played well from the onset, taking a 2-0 lead in the opening chukker on back-to-back goals from Nico Pieres, including one off the throw-in. Flexjet made it 3-0 early in the second chukker on Andrade’s short goal.
After holding Orchard Hill to one shot from the field for nearly two chukkers, Chavanne got his team on the scoreboard with 1:15 left in the second chukker. Flexjet kept its lead in the first half, holding a 4-2 halftime advantage and 5-3 after the fourth chukker behind a tight defense without fouling and teamwork on offense.
In the final two regulation chukkers, the evenly-matched teams battled, tying the game three times, 6-6, 7-7, and 9-9 when Gonzalito Pieres converted a 30-yard penalty with 1:18 left in the sixth chukker.
In overtime, both teams had their share of scoring opportunities including a penalty-four shot attempt.
“We knew that the game was very complicated,” Facundo Pieres said. “The field and the way we were playing was not helping our plan. It was very difficult for us to reach the goal and score goals. We knew if we continued like that they were going to win the game.
“We needed to change something so we started to get rid of the ball a little bit more,” Pieres said. “It’s something we don’t like to do but it’s something we had to do in this game. It worked because we got even in the score.
“It was still a very difficult game, they are a very strong team. Normally, Polito and I like to control the ball as much as possible but today wasn’t our day. I couldn’t hit the ball and I was making bad plays. In my mind, I needed to change my strategy. I am happy for Steve and the organization. This is the third year we are playing together and third year in the final. This is our last year playing so I hope we can finish by winning. That would be amazing. I want to win most of all for Polito. He has never won the U.S. Open and I want to win the Open for him.”
In the final stats, Flexjet converted 7-of-12 shots from the field (58 per cent) and Orchard Hill was 7-of-18 (38 per cent). Orchard Hill was perfect at the penalty line going 3-for-3 and Flexjet was 2-for-4. The fouls were close, with Flexjet edging Orchard Hill, 9-7. Orchard Hill dominated the throw-ins, 16-11.
“That was the toughest game,” Orchard Hill patron Steve Van Andel. “We were going back and forth and trying different things. We couldn’t get anything to work in the first half on offense so we went back to being more defensive and that seemed to help us out.”
Gonzalito Pieres, Nico Pieres and Andrade each had three goals for Flexjet. Facundo Pieres scored eight goals including three penalty conversions. Polito Pieres and Juan Chavanne each had one goal.
In the other Wednesday semifinal, Valiente (Bob Jornayvaz, Matias Torres Zavaleta, Diego Cavanagh, Adolfo Cambiaso) defeated Travieso (Teo Calle, Mariano Gonzalez, Sebastian Merlos, Alfredo Capella), 16-6, to make its fourth appearance in the final and spoil Travieso’s 26-goal tournament debut.
Cavanagh scored a game-high seven goals including three penalty conversions, Cambiaso had five goals and Zavaleta added four. Gonzalez led Travieso with four goals, three on penalty shots.
Winners of the C.V. Whitney Cup and USPA Gold Cup, Valiente is going for America’s Triple Crown in polo. The last team to win it was George Rawlings’ Crab Orchard in 2010.
Flexjet 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 and unlike anything else in the sky.
The tournament is being live-streamed on the USPA Polo Network at uspolo.org with content provided by production company and Wellington-based ChukkerTV. All games will also be available for on-demand viewing.
Grand Champions Polo Club, with eleven well-manicured polo fields, caters to men, women and youth polo players at all levels. Its’ expert staff can customize a complete playing experience including horses, pros and certified umpires in addition to lessons and practice sessions as part of its’ Polo On Demand program, the only polo club in the U.S. to offer the unique program.
The Polo School at Grand Champions, a 501c3 organization, is dedicated to teaching polo to all ages, particularly grass roots youth. Its mission is to provide individuals in all walks of life opportunities in polo. The Polo School, directed by former 8-goaler Juan Bollini, operates in Wellington January through June and September through November.
2017 GRAND CHAMPIONS SPRING SCHEDULE
(Subject to change because of weather and scheduling conflicts).
APRIL 20-23: Santa Rita Abierto and Handicap Tournament, Thursday, 4:30 p.m., Santa Rita Handicap, Round Robin, Altair vs. Graff Capital vs. Valiente at Valiente Polo Farm; Friday, 3:30 p.m., Santa Rita Abierto, Dutta Corp vs. Lucchese/La Indiana at Everglades Polo Field; 5:30 p.m., Santa Rita Abierto, Sonny Hill Polo vs. Whitehall Ranch at Patagones; Saturday, 10:30 a.m., Santa Rita Handicap; Sunday, 9:30 a.m., Grand Champions Final, at GCPC Field 1, 11:15 a.m. Santa Rita Abierto Final, at GCPC Field 2.
APRIL 28-30: USPA Eastern Challenge.
MAY 5-7: USPA Sun Cup
MAY 12-14: The Spring Challenge Cup.
MAY 19-21: Polo Gear Invitational.
MAY 26-29: The Memorial.
GRAND CHAMPIONS POLO CLUB
WHERE: 13444 Southfields Road, on the corner of South Shore Boulevard and Lake Worth Road, Wellington, 33414.
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 food and refreshments during the featured games of the winter, spring and fall tournament seasons and other special events. Admission is free except for some special events.