Casablanca Wins Overtime Thriller; Will Meet Travieso In Sterling Cup Final On Thursday
By Arianna Delin, Sharon Robb for Grand Champions Polo ClubFor the second time in four days, Grant Ganzi scored the winning goal to lead Casablanca to a 12-11 overtime victory over Valiente in the Sterling Cup semifinal on Monday at windswept Valiente Farm.
Casablanca (Harrison Azzaro, Grant Ganzi, Gonzalito Pieres, Rodrigo Andrade) will meet Travieso (Tony Calle, Torito Ruiz, Sebastian Merlos, Hugo Barabucci) in the championship final on Thursday at 4 p.m.
Travieso advanced into its first 20-goal final with an 11-6 victory over Dutta Corp in the other semifinal.
Gonzalito Pieres and Rodrigo Andrade of Casablanca working together on possession."We talked about playing in the final and now we are," Ganzi said. "I am happy for Tony, he is one of my best friends. Travieso has been playing unbelievable and Tony has been playing lights out."
At the 7:02 mark in overtime after Pieres and Andrade scoring attempts, Ganzi turned to the right and backed the ball in with a smooth, quick stroke of the mallet.
It was the second wild finish in a semifinal game the Lynn University freshman scored the winning goal.
Grant Ganzi of Casablanca waiting for the ball.In the $50,000 National 12-Goal Tournament on Friday at Grand Champions, Ganzi picked up a wide defensive neck shot and hit an open back shot just inside the right goal post to clinch the win for a 9-8 victory over Westhaven, sending Casablanca into Tuesday's 4 p.m. final against GSA.
Valiente (Rob Jornayvaz, Roberto Zedda, Pablo Spinacci, Diego Cavanagh) and Casablanca were well-matched in the physical, hotly contested game.
With 3:29 left in regulation, Cavanagh took off from midfield to score for an 11-10 Valiente lead.
Harrison Azzaro of Casablanca goes for the big neck shot.Andrade then took the ball and tied the game at 11-11. After two sticky minutes, Casablanca fouled with 35 seconds sending Cavanagh to the 40-yard penalty line. The open goal penalty shot sailed wide right giving Casablanca new life and setting up Ganzi's heroics.
"I called it in the tent," said the 18-year-old Ganzi, one of the youngest players in the 20-goal tournament. "I told all the guys I was going to score a back shot to win his game.
"Once I saw that ball I didn't even think about turning it. I had one shot at the ball and I saw the way the line was going. I cranked that back shot in the goal. I think mentally I was already in a state that I was hitting the back shots well."
Rodrigo Andrade of Casablanca avoids the hook of Pablo Spinacci.Ganzi said it was one of his team's toughest games of the tournament.
"It was an amazing game," Ganzi said. "It was really tough. Those guys came with everything. They are a hell of a team.
"We thought we came in really well and they came back at us harder than we came at them. The last two minutes were insane. I just told the guys in the tent that we had to win this game.
"Gonzalito and Rodrigo are amazing," Ganzi said. "They are both 10 goals in my mind. I am so happy for them and our team."
Gonzalito Pieres of Casablanca rides off Roberto Zedda.Pieres scored a game-high six goals including five on penalty conversions. Azzaro, Ganzi and Andrade each had two goals.
At 16, Azzaro, the son of former 10-goaler Mike Azzaro, who watched and coached from the sidelines, will make his 20-goal final debut.
Spinacci led Valiente with five goals and Cavanagh had four.
The Sterling Cup is one of two classic and prestigious tournaments that the nation's busiest and most innovative polo club has revived thanks to generosity of Glenn Straub of Palm Beach Polo, where the tournaments were last held.
Rodrigo Andrade of Casablanca goes for the neck shot.Photos by Ramon CasaresClub owners Melissa and Marc Ganzi hope to recapture the legacy and prestige of polo's hey days.
The Sterling Cup was the second tournament of the 22-goal season at Palm Beach Polo after the January Challenge Cup. It was considered the 22-goal championship and attracted as many as 18 teams. It was first played in 1989 at the 18-22 handicap.
The tournament is being live-streamed on ChukkerTV, worldwide leaders in polo broadcasting.
Grand Champions Polo Club 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 opportunities in polo. The Polo School operates in Wellington January through June and September through November.