By Alex Webbe, US Senior Correspondent. Photos by Alex Pacheco.
Aspen Valley (Grant Ganzi, Juancito Bollini, Gonzalito Pieres/Rodrigo Andrade and Sebastian Merlos) trailed early in the 2016 Hall of Fame Cup at the International Polo club Monday afternoon but rallied in the final chukkers to score a 10-8 victory over Grand Champions (Alex Webb, Tincho Merlos, Nic Roldan and Juan Bollini) for the Cup.
Agustin “Tincho” Merlos scored the first goal of the day for Grand Champions followed by a goal from Nic Roldan midway through the chukker for a 2-0 lead. Gonzalito Pieres got Aspen Valley on the scoreboard with 2:17 left in the period, 2-1. Tincho Merlos scored the final goal of the chukker as Grand Champions rode off the field with a 3-1 advantage.
Grand Champions continued to attack the Aspen Valley goal, and Aspen Valley fouls while attempting to defend were costly. Tincho Merlos added three more goals to the Grand Champions total on penalty shots, but Aspen Valley wasn’t exactly idle. Aspen Valley responded with a pair of goals from Sebastian Merlos (Tincho’s older brother) and a single goal from Juancito Bollini. After two chukkers of play Grand Champions continued to lead, 6-4.
Both defenses tightened up in third period play, and goals were scarce. Grant Ganzi cut the Grand Champions lead down to a single goal at the 4:55 mark, 6-5, when the Aspen Valley attack stalled out. Tincho Merlos scored the final goal of the first half to maintain the two goal lead for Grand Champions, 7-5.
Ganzi opened the second half with a goal from the field and backhanded a shot towards goal that Sebastian Merlos tapped in to tie the game. Grand Champions was held scoreless with the chukker ending all even at 7-7.
Rodrigo Andrade (replacing Pieres on the Aspen Valley roster for the second half) scored his first goal of the game and gave Aspen Valley their first lead of the game in the opening minutes of the fifth chukker, 8-7. Juan Bollini converted a penalty shot with 3:51 left in the chukker to tie it again at 8-8. Ganzi’s third goal of the game came on a 30-yard penalty shot, and Aspen Valley rode off the field in front, 9-8.
Both defenses were at peak performance in the final seven minutes of the game. Shots on goal were defended and direction of play was reversed. Just when it looked like the two teams were heading for overtime, a Grand Champions player fouled, sending Ganzi to the penalty line with 1:23 on the clock. Ganzi converted the 30-yard penalty shot and gave Aspen Valley a 10-8 lead that they would not give up. When the final horn sounded the Aspen Valley team celebrated the win with a dejected Grand Champions team wondering how it got away from them.
Ganzi led the Aspen Valley attack with four goals (two on penalty shots). Sebastian Merlos added three goals and Juancito Bollini, Pieres and Andrade each scored once for the win. Tincho Merlos scored a game-high six goals (four on penalty conversions). Juan Bollini and Roldan added single goals in a losing effort.
Ganzi earned MVP honors with Sebastian Merlos’ “Guri Pipi” being named Best Playing Pony.