WELLINGTON, FL., January 22, 2018---The rollercoaster ride ended for Grand Champions Polo Club in the final round of bracket play Sunday in the Joe Barry Cup at International Polo Club Palm Beach.
For the third game in a row, the foursome of Grant Ganzi, 2, Juancito Bollini, 4, Nico Pieres, 8, and Mike Azzaro, 6, could not build off its early 3-2 lead and dropped a 15-12 decision to Pilot (Curtis Pilot, Timmy Dutta, Gonzalito Pieres, Facundo Pieres) at Isla Carroll East.
After winning its season-opener against SD Farms, Grand Champions lost to Tonkawa, 9-8 and La Indiana, 9-8. Tonkawa and La Indiana are undefeated and advanced into Wednesday's semifinals.
After a close opening chukker, Pilot pulled away for leads of 5-3 and 10-5 in the second and third chukkers. Pilot, which had lost its first two games of the tournament, led by as many as eight goals (13-5 and 14-6) in the fifth chukker.
"The first time we ever played was our first game and we just didn't jell, that was my fault," said Curtis Pilot, making his 20-goal debut this season. "The second game we did much better and this third game we played a very, good aggressive game. They had fast horses, we had fast horses. It was a good fast game. We had fun."
Grand Champions was unable to shut down Facundo Pieres, rated at 10 goals and older brother Gonzalito Pieres, a 9-goaler, and 16-year-old Dutta, a sophomore at One Education Place, who got his start in polo three years ago at Grand Champions Polo Club.
Facundo Pieres scored a game-high ten goals, bringing his season-total to 21. Dutta added three and Gonzalito Pieres had two. Nico Pieres, playing against his two brothers, led Grand Champions with six goals and Mike Azzaro had five.
"It's not impossible," Azzaro said after riding over to his wife Amy on the sidelines before the sixth chukker with his team trailing, 15-9.
Grand Champions showed life in the fifth and sixth chukkers. Trailing 13-5 with 7:05 in the fifth chukker, Grand Champions took advantage of missed goals by Pilot players and came within three with 1:13 left in the game.
"We were playing good and they were out of rhythm," Gonzalito Pieres said. "They got a bit confused especially with the long balls. Timmy and Curtis were doing a good job on Granti and Juancito and it created a lot of space. It was tough for Mike and Nico to get on top of us because Curtis and Timmy were doing a good job on them. It looked like we were passing the ball quite well."
With the one-two punch of Facundo and Gonzalito Pieres, Pilot was expected to reach the semifinals. But instead lost its first two games against Travieso and Coca-Cola.
"Against Travieso we started really bad," Gonzalito Pieres. "It was our first game together and they were a good team. They dominated the first half. We came back a bit late. We had our chances but we had to come from six goals down. Against Coke, we improved and had a good game. We couldn't score when we had a chance to win the game and had a little bit bad luck.
"Today was our best game," Pieres said. "It's good that we won and we have another tournament coming up. If our team plays like it did today, we will be good. I am happy for Curtis. At least we won a game in this tournament. We are having fun and that's important."
For Dutta, it was another step in the rising young player's career and first 20-goal win at IPC.
"Today the biggest thing for me was the connection," Dutta said. "I finally connected with Facundo and Gonzalito. I think in our next tournament we will come out stronger as a team. The horses are playing well for us and we are having chemistry now.
"When we had a big lead, I had to act like we were losing by that because you're going to relax at one point and they are going to start scoring again, and again and again," Dutta said. "They did score some great goals at the end and did really well. For me, I just have to keep pushing and doing my thing, like they say a mosquito."
Dutta is also playing at Grand Champions in the medium goal leagues honing his skill with his mentor and father, Tim Dutta, and Argentine coach Piki Diaz Alberdi, a former 10-goaler in Great Britain.
The Pilot-Grand Champions game was one of five games on the final day of bracket play in the 11-team tournament. In other games, Coca-Cola defeated SD Farms, 11-6, in the featured Engel & Volkers stadium game. Steve Krueger was named MVP and Sugar Erskine's horse Popsy was selected Best Playing Pony.
Tonkawa defeated Travieso, 12-10; Postage Stamp knocked off Colorado, 13-11; and Modere edged Goose Creek, 12-11. A shootout featuring Coca-Cola, Travieso, Colorado, Goose Creek and Postage Stamp is scheduled for Monday at 10 a.m. to determine pairings for the Joe Barry Cup semifinals and Bobby Barry subsidiary.
USPA Polo Network is live streaming the IPC winter season, including the entire Joe Barry Cup tournament, with content from Wellington-based ChukkerTV.
The tournament, created in 2005, is named after Joe Barry, a big-hitting 9-goal ranked American player, born and raised in Truscott, Tex., and one of the most well-liked players in the game. He dominated polo in the 1960s and 1970s.
The six-time U.S. Open winner was inducted into the Polo Hall of Fame in 1999. He also won three Gold Cups, three Silver Cups as well as Coronation and Camacho Cup trophies. Barry died on May 18, 2002 at age 58.
Grand Champions Polo Club and Santa Rita Polo Farm is the largest and most unique polo facility in Wellington with 120 stalls in five self-contained barns, exercise track, five climate-controlled tack rooms, vet room, staff quarters, guest house and polo fields with state-of-the-art underground irrigation and stick-and-ball fields
The club features monthly 6, 8 and 12-goal tournaments and women's weekly league play during the winter season in addition to two 16-20 tournaments, $50,000 National 12 Goal, $100,000 World Cup winner-take-all 0-40-goal tournament, WCT Tournament and USPA National President's Cup.
Grand Champions 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 Club Hotline is 561-644-5050. It will be updated every day at 8 a.m. for both players and fans.