Newport's Wes Finlayson (2) battles Grand Champions' Julio Ezcurra (3) for the ball. Photo by Scott Fisher
Julio Ezcurra, making his season debut, scored a game-high seven goals including the game-winner, to lead Grand Champions to an exciting 11-10 victory over Newport in the championship final of the Palm Restaurant Invitational.
It was the seventh and final medium-goal polo tournament of the fall season.
With eleven teams competing throughout the season, it was most competitive in Grand Champions' eight-year history. Casablanca won three tournaments; Paladin, Audi, Palm House and Grand Champions each captured one tournament title.
Ezcurra competed in Grand Champions' inaugural medium goal season.
|Grand Champions' Julio Ezcurra (3) maintains possession of the ball despite being pursued. Photo by Scott Fisher|
"It has improved a lot since that first year," Ezcurra said. "It is amazing. What Grand Champions is doing for polo is really important for polo, it's building polo."
Added Melissa Ganzi: "Every year it's getting more and more competitive, the teams are getting stronger and the caliber of the pros has improved as has the level of the horses that people bring to play now."
|Newport's Wes Finlayson (2) drives downfield with the ball ahead of defender Julio Ezcurra (3) of Grand Champions. Photo by Scott Fisher|
Ezcurra finished his season in New York at the end of September. He said he was rusty after not playing for seven weeks, but quickly shook off the rust in the opening chukker.
"I have two to three months easy until the winter season," Ezcurra said. "I was kind of rough playing. It was fun and I had a great team. It was a fun team and we just played hard. I think everyone played well because of teamwork."
|Grand Champions Polo Club's winning team from left to right, Glenn Straub, Juan Bollini, Melissa Ganzi and Julio Ezcurra. Photo by Scott Fisher|
Grand Champions (Melissa Ganzi, Glenn Straub, Julio Ezcurra, Juan Bollini) and Newport (Michael Bellissimo, Wes Finlayson, Gene Goldstein, Michel Dorignac) battled evenly throughout the game.
Grand Champions trailed at halftime (5-4) but mounted a comeback in the second half behind Ezcurra, who scored five of his goals in the fourth and fifth chukkers enabling Grand Champions to regain the lead, 8-5, in the fourth chukker and maintain the lead, 11-9, after five chukkers.
Grand Champions was shut out in the final chukker but played well defensively allowing only one goal in the final seconds of the game.
"It was a really exciting team win," Ganzi said. "It was a fun day."
|Great awards for the finals of the season-ending medium goal season at Grand Champions Polo Club. Photo by Scott Fisher|
|Most Valuable Player Michael Bellissimo accepting his award from Grand Champions @ PB Polo manager Juan Olivera. Photo by Scott Fisher|
Bellissimo, 17, a senior at St. Andrew's School in Boca Raton, was named Most Valuable Player. Bellissimo was coming off a six-month layoff from polo.
"I am really happy, this was really an exciting game to play," Bellissimo said. "It's fun playing with all these players. It's really a different type of polo, really open, nice and not too many fouls like a lot of games.
|Newport's Michael Bellissimo (1) showing his Most Valuable Player form. Photo by Scott Fisher|
"When it worked, we were all playing as a team, getting the ball to each other and being in the right position," Bellissimo said. "When it didn't work we were just disorganized."
|Most Valuable Player Michael Bellissimo (1) defends as Grand Champions' Glenn Straub (2) leans into his shot. Photo by Scott Fisher|
In addition to Ezcurra's scoring barrage, Bollini scored four goals. Finlayson led Newport with four goals, Goldstein had three, Dorignac added two and Bellissimo had one.
Seven-year-old Quarzo, played by Straub in two chukkers, and owned by Halo Polo, was named Best Playing Polo.
|Newport's Wes Finlayson (2) tries to avoid the hook of Juan Bollini (4) of Grand Champions. Photo by Scott Fisher|
Grand Champions (Juan Forero, Juancito Bollini, Hector Galindo, Tommy Biddle) made it a clean sweep, winning the subsidiary with a 9-6 victory over Berlin Polo (Moritz Gaedeke, Ricky Marshad, Sugar Erskine, Martin Estrada).
Biddle scored a game-high six goals and was named Most Valuable Player. Galindo scored two goals and Bollini added one. Gaedeke led Berlin Polo with four goals and Estrada and Marshad each had one goal.
Bosh, a 8-year-old bay mare, and owned by Halo Polo, was selected Best Playing Pony.
|Polo fans got an added bonus with "Cars and Coffee" sponsored by Braman Motorcars and Palm Beach Super Cars during Sunday's games. Photo by Scott Fisher|
|Polo fans at Grand Champions were treated to "Coffee and Cars" during Sunday's doubleheader, sponsored by Braman Motor Cars and Palm Beach Super Cars. Photo by Scott Fisher|
After the doubleheader, there was a fun get together and barbecue provided by Cilantro's Herman Moreira for players, sponsors and fans to celebrate the successful 2013 fall season.
|The Grand Champions Boutique is off to a successful start under the guidance of retail manager Jennifer Guinan. Photo by Scott Fisher|
GRAND CHAMPIONS FALL SCHEDULE
Nov. 13-23, USPA National 20-Goal Championship
Nov. 24, Juniors Tournament
Nov. 30, The Legends of Polo, 1 p.m. and International Cup, Team USA vs. Chile, 3 p.m.
GRAND CHAMPIONS POLO CLUB
WHERE: 13444 Southfields Road, on the corner of South Shore Boulevard and Lake Worth Road, Wellington, 561-644-5050.