Audi's Marc Ganzi (1) drives downfield with Piaget's Juan Bollini (4) in pursuit. Photo by Scott Fisher
It has been no easy task for the defending champion which has had to battle back in every game to make it back to the championship final including its semifinal victory over Piaget on Thursday.
In a hard-fought, penalty-marred game, Audi came back to defeat Piaget, 9-8, behind Marc Ganzi's winning goal with 2:37 left in the game.
Audi (2-1) will play the winner of Friday's semifinal game between undefeated ELG and Casablanca. The game was rained out Thursday.
|Audi's Carlitos Gracida (2) has his eye on the ball in flight while Piaget's Piki Alberdi (3) outraces him. Photo by Scott Fisher|
The final 20-goal tournament of the fall season has turned out to be the most competitive of them all.
"The teams are so much better this year," said Hall of Famer and former 10-goaler Carlos Gracida Sr., two weeks away from getting his U.S. citizenship.
"The teams are better organized with better horses. This competition is getting better and better. All of the best American players are here."
Added Melissa Ganzi, "Last year Audi had the best team by far.This year all the teams are good. It was open for everybody and that's what makes polo fun when all the teams are evenly-balanced and the horses are so good. It's anybody's final."
|Piaget's Juan Bollini (4) and Audi's Carlitos Gracida (2) keep their eye on the ball. Photo by Scott Fisher|
Audi (Marc Ganzi, Carlitos Gracida, Nic Roldan, Carlos Gracida) relied on its experience and chemistry to end Piaget's (Melissa Ganzi, Jeff Hall, Piki Alberdi, Juan Bollini) fall season.
"There was a lot of goal-scoring in the beginning and in the last two chukkers there were only a few goals scored," Melissa Ganzi said. "There were a lot of fouls.
"That team has played together for a long time and it is led by a living legend, Carlos Gracida. He brings a lot of experience and he certainly brings a cool head to that team."
It was a quick turnaround for Audi that played a late afternoon game against Casablanca Wednesday.
|Audi's Carlitos Gracida (2) maintains possession of the ball despite defensive pressure from Piaget's Juan Bollini (4). Photo by Scott Fisher|
"The horses actually played better than they did yesterday, they played very well," Gracida Sr. said.
Audi started out with a two-goal lead by handicap and built on it for a 6-3 halftime advantage.
"They were a good team," Gracida Sr. said. "Somehow we managed to create scoring opportunities. The two goals handicap helped a lot, we were able to get a jump but it was just like a race, they kept catching up."
Piaget kept it close and trailed by only one at the end of the fourth chukker (7-6) and tied the game (7-7) early in the fifth chukker on one of Jeff Hall's three penalty goals.
Audi regained the lead (8-7) late in the fifth chukker on Roldan's goal with 55 seconds remaining.
|Audi's Carlitos Gracida (2) drives downfield with Piaget's Jeff Hall (2) applying the pressure. Photo by Scott Fisher|
With 4:36 left in the sixth chukker, Alberdi took advantage of a loose ball and pushed a goal through to tie the game again (8-8). Hall broke away on another goal attempt but was turned away by Carlitos Gracida.
It was then Audi's turn to break away with Ganzi getting loose and scoring after a well-placed pass from Gracida Sr. to give Audi a 9-8 lead.
Hall had one last chance with a big hit toward goal but was again denied by Carlitos Gracida. With 25 seconds left Ganzi attempted a penalty shot that was blocked by Bollini. Alberdi took possession and was attempting to bring it down field when time ran out.
|Piaget's Piki Alberdi (3) tries to hook Audi's Nic Roldan (3) as he pursues the ball. Photo by Scott Fisher|
"The game could have gone either way," Gracida Sr. said. "Even the last play with 25 seconds they had a chance. They can create a play in 20 seconds."
Carlos Gracida and Ganzi each had three goals for Audi. Roldan added one.
Hall finished with a game-high four goals, Alberdi had three and Melissa Ganzi scored one for Piaget.
|Piaget's Jeff Hall (2) leans into his downfield shot. Photo by Scott Fisher|
"It was a good game, they were tough," Hall said. "We had a chance. I had that one run there that would have put us up by one. Then they went back and scored the one."
Said Roldan, "We're just happy to get back to the final. All the teams are more even now. All the teams are competitive and well-mounted. Today we just had an off game. I am happy we are in the final."
For Carlitos Gracida, it will mark his second consecutive appearance in the final.
"We're happy to get the win, it's good to get back to the final," Gracida said. "We knew we couldn't make fouls and not rush the game. If you make fouls, Jeff will score penalties.
|Audi's Carlitos Gracida (2) bumps Piaget's Juan Bollini (4) as he tries to control the ball. Photo by Scott Fisher|
"It's tougher this year," Gracida said. "Now it's really competitive. At first it started for fun and every year it's gotten more and more competitive. It's real polo."
Six teams started the two-week tournament play in two divisions. Audi, Casablanca and Palm Beach Equine were in the West bracket and KIG, ELG and Piaget were in the East bracket.
GRAND CHAMPIONS FALL SCHEDULE
Nov. 22, USPA National 20-Goal Tournament Semifinal: Casablanca vs. ELG.
Nov. 23, USPA National 20-Goal Tournament Final, 3 p.m.
Nov. 24, Turkey Trot Juniors Tournament, 10 a.m.
Nov. 30, The Legends of Polo, 1 p.m. and International Cup, Team USA vs. Chile, 3 p.m.
GRAND CHAMPIONS POLO CLUB
WHERE: 13444 Southfields Road, on the corner of South Shore Boulevard and Lake Worth Road, Wellington, 561-644-5050.