Lechuza Caracas wins; will meet Villa Del Lago/Casablanca in finals
By Alex Webbe
Nico Espain’s penalty goal in the final seconds of the sixth chukker broke a tie and lifted Lechuza Caracas (Victor Vargas, Mariano Gracida, Eduardo Novillo Astrada and Nico Espain) to an 8-7 win over Coca-Cola (Gillian Johnston, Jeff Hall, Julio Arellano and Nick Morrison), sending them to the finals of the season-opening Herbie Pennell Cup at the International Polo Club Friday afternoon before a throng of fans and polo enthusiasts that ringed the field.
For the first time in three years Coca-Cola won’t be going to the finals of a tournament they had won in 2012 and 2013 despite a valiant effort that fell just short.
Lechuza Caracas received one goal by handicap, with 9-goaler Eduardo Novillo Astrada filling in for the absent Pablo MacDonough (10), but it was American 9-goaler Julio Arellano show scored the opening goal of the match to tie it up at 1-1. Coca-Cola team captain Gillian Johnston scored for a 2-1 Coke advantage less than two minutes into the game. Nico Espain scored a goal from the field to knot it at 2-2. Arellano scored the final goal of the chukker on a 60-yard penalty conversion for a 3-2 Coca-Cola lead.
Both defenses stepped it up in the second, and despite runs up and down the field, Lechuza Caracas team captain Victor Vargas scored the lone goal of the period. After two chukkers of play the game was all even at 3-3.
Arellano and exchanged early goals in the third with Arellano scoring from the field. 4-3; followed by a 40-yard penalty goal from Espain, 4-4. Mariano Gracida scored his first goal of the game with two minutes left on the clock allowing Lechuza Caracas to leave the field with a 5-4 halftime advantage.
Defense was the byword of the fourth chukker as neither team managed to score. Lechuza Caracas continued to hold a narrow one-goal lead, 5-4, with two chukkers left in regulation time.
All three goals in the fifth chukker came on penalty shots with Espain scoring twice and Arellano converting a goal for a score. One chukker remained to be played in the game and Lechuza Caracas had extended its lead to two goals, 7-5.
Arellano cut the Lechuza Caracas lead to a single goal, 7-6, in the opening thirty seconds of the sixth chukker, and 7-goaler Jeff Hall slashed through traffic to rocket the ball through the goalposts for a 7-7 deadlock just 9- seconds later. Both teams battled for possession of the ball as time wore down, and a Coca-Cola mistake sent Espain to the penalty line where he converted the shot to give Lechuza Caracas the 8-7 win and a date in Sunday’s Herbie Pennell Cup finals.