It was déjà vu all over again, as the saying goes, at the Tortugas Open final on Sunday. La Dolfina took a sixth consecutive Tourtugas trophy, splattering the hopes of a dejected but still determined Ellerstina. The Z lost by just two points (11-9), another stab in a series of almost-got-there Triple Crown finals in the past several years.
Facundo Pieres, as he always steps up to do in a situation like this, owned it. “I missed two or three 60s (penalty shots), and you can’t do that against La Dolfina,” he said. “I didn’t play well in the first two chukkers. I was a little late.”
He started to make up for it late in the game, with one goal in each of the last two chukkers, but it would have taken Superman to stop the La Dolfina freight train. The crew from Cañuelas made three goals in the first chukker to zero by Ellerstina. Even though La Dolfina made no goals in three chukkers (the second, fourth and sixth), they still led all the way through (except for one brief tie), thanks to the Adolfo Cambiaso-Juan Martín Nero fireball and several amazing plays by MVP Pelon Sterling. The closest Ellerstina got to containing them was tying the game at 5 early in the fifth chukker, but La Dolfina kicked back into gear with three consecutive unanswered goals.
La Dolfina clung to the lead for the rest of the game, but Facundo Pieres managed to give them a few premature grey hairs when he scored near the end of the final chukker, tightening the score to 10-9. It came from a ferocious attacking play by Facundo off a backshot pass from Gonzalito Pieres. Stirling slammed the door for La Dolfina with a sudden stop-and-spin move to foil a pass by his opponents and ran the ball straight into goal. All told, Stirling made five goals and La Dolfina kept Ellerstina to just 12 shots all afternoon.
As La Dolfina coach Milo Fernández Araujo said after the game, in every LD game “the win is all [in] the details.” He said they saved a lot of their best horses for Hurlingham and Palermo because they know it will be tough going against Ellerstina and Las Monjitas again.
Araujo said he wasn’t happy at halftime, and he told his team so, with the score at the end of the fourth chukker 5-4 for LD. Polito Pieres, who had an outstanding game, had just executed two consecutive goals, both of them stunning. On the first he ran between Nero and Cambiaso, stealing the ball from Cambiaso. His second came after a penalty shot that Ellerstina used to whip the ball back and forth amongst themselves; the final pass went to Polito, who sent a neck shot through the posts so fast that had you blinked you would have missed it.
Araujo, who supposedly (but let’s see) is in his last year of coaching La Dolfina, read his guys the riot act. “I told them at halftime I didn’t like how they began the fourth chukker. We complicated our own plays. We have to keep it simple,” he said. After the game he acknowledged, “We took some really bad knocks today. We gave away a lot of plays. It was our fault that [Ellerstina] got to the ball. We made a lot of mistakes. We’re going to watch the tapes and fix the mistakes.”
No doubt about that if, as predicted, La Dolfina is to take another Triple Crown. From Stirling’s perspective, “It’s very important to start the first tournament of the Triple Crown with a win. But we just won [the first leg]. We’re still on the run. We can dream for it.”
Overall the tournament followed the normal script of Ellerstina and La Dolfina being a step above everyone, Las Monjitas one step behind them, and the rest of the field following. Las Monjitas is dangerous offensively, but its defense was troublesome. They can dominate lower-ranked teams, but when pressured by the big guns they were foul prone.
La Dolfina Polo Ranch displayed a really strong showing in the tournament. In their opening game against La Aguada, La Dolfina PR had a 32 handicap and La Aguada 33. Despite conceding a goal, La Dolfina PR beat La Aguada by 5 (14-9), and the offensive combo of Diego Cavanagh and Guille Terrera paced them throughout the tournament.
TORTUGAS OPEN: KEY STATS
Tournament leader: Gonzalito Pieres (20 goals)
All four La Dolfina players in top 6 in scoring:
Pablo MacDonough 15
David Stirling 13
Adolfo Cambiaso and Sapo Caset tied at 12
Juan Martin Nero and Facundo Sola tied at 10
In 3 games combined, La Dolfina outscored opponents 50-23 (+27 goal differential)
Photography: Helen Cruden