It was hard not to feel sorry for Ellerstina for the first half of the Hurlingham Open final—but that changed in a snap when they blasted the lid off the game with seven consecutive unanswered goals in the fifth and sixth chukkers. A stunned La Dolfina, who had never been trampled that way, scrambled to recover and almost did. They ended up falling 12-11 to Ellerstina, giving the Pieres team their third consecutive Hurlingham trophy.
In a battle of evenly matched teams, what made the difference in such a tight game? Early on La Dolfina's offense was anchored by their ability to bait Ellerstina into fouls due to the high-pressure defensive style Ellerstina deployed. This same defensive style made life difficult for La Dolfina, forcing them to shoot lower-percentage shots from distance. Ellerstina improved their discipline in the second half, led by the backline duo of Facundo and Nico Pieres, while maintaining their defensive intensity. The result was a quick transition offense for Ellerstina. La Dolfina finished the game just 4-for-16 (25%) from the field and missed four penalty attempts in the game, while Ellerstina missed just one, using their efficiency to hold onto their lead.
The game started with a tense vibe, and little of note happened in the first half other than La Dolfina taking the lead. Even so, LD coach Milo Fernández Araujo could be heard telling his players between the third and fourth chukkers, “We have to do better. Put more pressure on them.” (Araujo wants his teams to score in every chukker, but La Dolfina didn’t get on the board in the fifth or sixth.)
A pivotal moment came at the start of the fifth chukker. Holding a 7-4 lead, La Dolfina was awarded a penalty 4. Had Cambiaso scored on it, La Dolfina would have taken a four-goal lead and been able to secure control of the game. On the ensuing knock-in, Ellerstina drove down field and Gonzalito Pieres got fouled in front of goal. That resulted in a penalty 2 goal for Ellerstina, tightening the score to 7-5, which really seemed to give Ellerstina life.
A flurry of yellow cards made for some interesting moments in the sixth chukker, with Adolfo Cambiaso and Nico Pieres drawing their second yellows. First it was 4-on-3 on the field and then 3-on-3, with both offenders in “jail” at the same time. Here’s how it went down:
Cambiaso got benched, and Polito Pieres converted the resulting penalty 2. That brought Ellerstina to an 11-8 lead, and it started to look like they could run away with the game. However, with 3 against 4 and Cambiaso still off the field, Pablo Mac Donough scored from distance, which gave La Dolfina a glimmer of hope. Before Cambiaso’s two minutes were up Nico Pieres drew his second yellow (backtalk to the umpire), but the period of 3-on-3 play went scoreless.
Within a minute of Cambiaso getting back in, La Dolfina received a penalty 2 due to Ellerstina being down a man and taking a chance defensively. Cambiaso converted it to begin the last chukker (this was the first game of the season to have eight chukkers instead of seven). Then Nico got sprung and the eight-man tango resumed.
With 11-10 to Ellerstina, there was some unintended collateral damage. Mac Donough’s mallet accidentally struck Facundo Pieres very hard in the back just above his waist. Pieres ignored the huge red welt that covered about a quarter of his back and carried on, just as Pelón Stirling had done in the fifth when he reached high up to stop Cambiaso’s ball from going out (the ball dropped onto Stirling’s face, giving him a deep, bloody cut beside the eye). On a long supersonic run with Stirling in pursuit, Nico pulled Ellerstina ahead by two (12-10), which sewed it up for Ellerstina. Mac Donough delivered a final goal for La Dolfina, but with only 20 seconds left it was too little too late.
WHAT THE PLAYERS HAD TO SAY
Polito Pieres: “We started the first half pretty bad. We were anxious. We were nervous. And then we started playing very well. Today is the day for Ellerstina! We feel we beat them in a very solid way.”
Gonzalito Pieres: “We wanted this. Everything is motivation.”
Facundo Pieres: “To beat La Dolfina you have to play a perfect game. That means all four of us had to play fantastic. We feel like we beat them well.”
Pablo Mac Donough: “It never happened to us before” (an opponent making seven consecutive goals). “They scored one goal after another, and we couldn’t come back. But every team has a bad day. We’re looking for revenge in Palermo.”
HONORS AND AWARDS
High-scorers (final): Polito Pieres, Pablo Mac Donough and Adolfo Cambiaso (five goals each)
High-scorer (tournament): Polito Pieres (31 goals)
Fair Play Award: Juan Martín Nero
BPP (AAP and Argentine Breeders Association):Open Guillermina (Optimum x Open Geisha), played by Nico Pieres. This was her second consecutive year to win the award.
Score by chukker (Ellerstina-La Dolfina): 1-2, 1-4, 3-5, 4-7, 6-7, 10-7, 11-9, 12-11
TOURNAMENT STATS: ELLERSTINA
Ellerstina produced one of their most complete team performances from start to finish in the Hurlingham Open that has been seen in any Triple Crown tournament in recent years. Ellerstina dominated open play in each game, averaging 12.4 field goals per game, a full two goals higher than the next-closest team. They also had the second-highest shooting percentage at 60.8%, which was the backbone for their offensive attack. The team’s efficiency extended to the penalty line with the team collectively shooting an impressive 92.9%, and Polito Pieres and Facundo Pieres handling the majority of the attempts. All four players averaged at least 3.0 goals per game, evidencing the depth and balanced attack that was needed to overcome La Dolfina.
Photography: Helen Cruden