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Travieso rallies to defeat Casablanca for Sterling Cup

Travieso rallied in the second half to win the prestigious Sterling Cup with a 13-8 victory over Casablanca Friday at Grand Champions Polo Club.

After being shut out in the second and third chukkers, Travieso stormed back in the second half, outscoring Casablanca, 10-2, in the fourth and fifth chukkers.

Travieso outscored Casablanca, 6-0, in the key fourth chukker to take an 8-6 leading going into the fifth chukker. Travieso continued its relentless attack in the fifth to outscore Casablanca 4-2 for a 12-8 lead.

Argentine 9-goaler Sebastian Merlos scored a game-high six goals and was named Most Valuable Player. Best Playing Pony was Merlos’ 9-year-old grey mare, Fletcha, who played the fourth chukker and enabled Merlos to score four goals.

“We needed to wake up after the first half, we were terrible,” Merlos said. “We were still in bed, watching them carry the ball. We needed to do what we talked about in our team meeting. It is good for Travieso to go from the low to the medium goal and now we champion to the high goal.”

It was the first 20-goal tournament win of the season for Travieso’s foursome of Tony Calle, a junior at Lynn University, Torito Ruiz, 18, Merlos and Hugo Barabucci. Calle, 22, was the team’s second leading scorer with four goals. Casablanca featured 9-goalers Gonzalito Pieres and Rodrigo Andrade; Grant Ganzi, a freshman at Lynn; and Harrison Azzaro, the 16-year-old son of former 10-goaler Mike Azzaro.

“When we came back, it completely changed the momentum of the game,” Calle said. “We scored all the goals we had to. Sebe pointed out very clearly what we were doing in the first half and that being the young players were too hungry for the ball and not going for the man.

“It feels great playing high goal polo and winning such a historical Cup. It’s always been my dream and my goal since I got here to Wellington and it’s nice that it’s finally coming true.”

The Sterling Cup is one of two prestigious tournaments Grand Champions is reviving. It was last played in 1995 at Palm Beach Polo during the sport’s glory days. It was first played in 1989.

In another championship match at Grand Champions, Global Student Accommodations (GSA) defeated Casablanca 13-6 to win the $50,000 National 12-Goal winner-take-all tournament. The team of Henry Porter, 17, Santino Magrini, 15, Juan Martin Zubia, 18, and Torito Ruiz, 18, is the youngest to capture the fourth annual event.

Zubia scored a game-high six goals and was named MVP. He is the youngest among past MVPs Luis Escobar, Brit Mark Tomlinson and Jesse Bray. Ruiz had five goals and Magrini added two. Bray led Casablanca with four goals.

It was GSA’s final appearance of the winter season and the first time it sponsored a polo team. GSA had leads of 5-0, 7-2 and 8-2.

Grand Champions Polo Club extended its 20-goal season, adding the inaugural Molina Cup that started Thursday with top-seed Goose Creek defeating Beverly Equestrian, 8-7, in the tournament-opener. On Monday, Beverly Equestrian plays Valiente at Valiente Farm at 3 p.m., and Dutta Corp plays Casablanca at Grand Champions’ Field 3 at 4:30 p.m.

Also on Sunday, the four-team USPA Gold Cup preliminary games continued at International Polo Club Palm Beach.

In the featured stadium match on Engel & Volkers Field, Coca-Cola took the lead early in the fourth chukker and went on to defeat Audi, 11-8. Julio Arellano was named MVP. Julian de Lussaretta scored a game-high six goals, including four in the first chukker. His horse, Cream, was Best Playing Pony.

In the early game, Valiente defeated Orchard Hill, 14-10. Matias Zavaleta and Diego Cavanagh each had five goals for Valiente. Facundo Pieres scored all 10 of Orchard Hill’s goals, including six penalty shots.

Wednesday’s semifinals will be Valiente (2-0) vs. Audi (0-2) at noon and Orchard Hill (1-1) vs. Coca-Cola at 3 p.m. Winners advance into next Sunday’s final.

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