The weekend’s semifinals of the Hurlingham Open played out pretty much as expected: Las Monjitas went down 11-8 to La Dolfina but managed to give them a few premature grey hairs in the process. Ellerstina clobbered La Aguada 19-8.
There’s nothing surprising we can say about Ellerstina’s demolition of La Aguada, but the Novillo Astradas had plenty to say about it—at least to each other. They rode off the field side-by-side in parallel fury and frustration, shaking their fists and glowering at each other all the way back to the palenque. Keenly aware of the escalating tension, teammate Alfredo Bigatti moved into the mix, trying to mediate what was a lost cause.
La Aguada’s demise began with inaccurate shooting. They made just 1 of their first 7 shots and shot 2-for-5 from the penalty line. This placed them behind in the game from the start, and they couldn’t recover. The missed shots also gave Ellerstina possession on the knock-ins, and they used those opportunities very effectively to drive down field. The second bugaboo for La Aguada was foul trouble: 9 La Aguada fouls resulted in 7 penalty attempts for Ellerstina, who shot a perfect 7/7.
Ellerstina stuck with their plan, playing a possession game rather than the wide-open passing game that La Aguada wanted to play. The “Z” maintained their possession on their attacks and consistently placed La Aguada in difficult positions defensively and pressured La Aguada when they approached goal. The result was missed shot opportunities as La Aguada was inaccurate, missing all shots outside the 30-yard mark. Ellerstina played a fast, tightly-marked game, but kept possession and utilized their set plays to help in building attacks.
In the other semi, the final scene was scripted in the first chukker, which ended 3-0 for La Dolfina. Still, although Las Monjitas trailed all the way through, they managed to close the gap to two goals three times (twice in the second chukker and once in the fifth), each time courtesy of captain Sapo Caset. Las Monjitas had an exceptional fifth chukker with three goals. Caset made two of them and was instrumental in the other on a shared play with Hilario Ulloa. Caset escorted the ball down field with aplomb but it bounced away as he headed toward goal. Perfectly positioned behind him, Ulloa took over and snatched the ball. With two La Dolfina players racing between them, Caset and Ulloa barreled ahead and Ulloa tapped the ball into goal.
It wasn’t long until Las Monjitas got within striking distance of La Dolfina, who held an 8-6 lead going into the sixth. Then La Dolfina pounced on their opponent like a taunted saber-toothed tiger blowing through the gate of its cage. The final chukker sealed it 11-8 for La Dolfina.
Asked whether the win felt like a revenge of sorts from last year’s Hurlingham semis, when three of the four Las Monjitas players (then playing for Alegria) bounced La Dolfina out of the final, Juan Martin Nero said, “Well, I’m not sure I’d call it revenge, but we really wanted to be in the final this year. Now we’ll see . . .”
Photography: Helen Cruden