Sapo Caset and Hilario Ulloa just about blew the helmets off their opponents yesterday in the 2018 Joe Barry Cup semifinals at International Polo Club Palm Beach. Caset led Tonkawa to a 17-9 win over defending champion La Indiana, and Ulloa propelled Modere to a 10-6 defeat of Coca-Cola. Both team captains and 10-goalers, Caset and Ulloa made eight goals apiece in stunning takedowns.
In one of the best offensive games between two undefeated teams in 20-goal polo, Tonkawa put in a pouncing-attack performance. They spent the afternoon making difficult neck shots from angles, scoring from distance and ramrodding the ball through the La Indiana defense. But La Indiana can’t be faulted for their play; it was just a game where Tonkawa couldn't miss.
Tonkawa took advantage of every opportunity they had, shooting 14 for 17 (82%) from the field. The pace of the game was fast, which is the style both teams like to play. While Tonkawa had found themselves slowed somewhat by opponents in bracket play, they flourished when they finally got to play another fast team like themselves. Tonkawa wasted no time Wednesday, using quick passing and repeatedly running straight downfield to goal.
Julian de Lusarreta ignited the Tonkawa offense early in the game. In the first chukker he tied the score at 1 with a 180-yard drive on a pass from Sapo Caset. As usual, Caset was a force of nature—this time both literally and figuratively. Retying the score at 2 on a penalty 4, he catapulted the ball exponentially farther than the required 60 yards. It rocketed way above goal and disappeared behind the trees. A loud “ka-plunk” and some shrill screeching revealed that the ball had landed in the canal, disrupting the afternoon siesta of a flock of annoyed water birds.
De Lusarreta really came through on the attack, starting with four goals in the first two chukkers. He worked slickly with patron Jeff Hildebrand, who capitalized on a back shot assist from de Lusarreta in the first chukker. Hildebrand ran the ball more than 200 yards into goal, giving Tonkawa their first lead of the day (3-2).
De Lusarreta played in stunning sync with Caset all day, making back-to-back goals in the second chukker on Caset assists. The two swapped the ball back-and-forth several times on those goals, pulling Tonkawa to a 6-3 advantage in the second half. The green machine maintained the three-goal advantage at halftime (9-6). Caset seized control in the second half. He scored three goals in the fourth chukker to open up a seven-goal lead, which stretched to eight as the game ended 17-9 for Tonkawa.
In a split-style game with two distinctive halves, Coca-Cola started with the defensive style of play they needed to win. The first half was a low-scoring affair, with the pace dulled so Modere couldn't break away for runs. Holding Modere to just two shots in the first half, the game was kept in the middle of the field, where Coca-Cola remained disciplined and kept from overextending themselves.
Sugar Erskine and Julio Arellano were effective in the back, and Steve Krueger was active in the middle of the field. Krueger played a great game for Coca-Cola, strong defensively and finishing with two goals (both with Ulloa gaining ground directly behind him).
Clinging to a 4-3 lead at halftime, Coca-Cola needed to keep the flow of the game slow and continue to play their effective defensive style. But they found themselves behind and were forced to start pressing, which took them out of their style of play and favored Modere. Modere's rapid-speed power plays overwhelmed them, with six of Ulloa’s eight goals happening in the second half.
“Our first half was okay, but the second was much better because we had more possession and control of the ball,” said Ulloa.
As soon as he came out of the tent after half time, Ulloa revved up the pace in a shift that seemed to catch Coca-Cola by surprise. Arellano was cruising comfortably on a long run with the ball, surrounded by nothing but open space. A goal looked imminent until Ulloa thundered in out of nowhere, stole the ball and set up an uncontested breakaway. Later in the game Ulloa pulled off the same move against Gillian Johnston.
En route to a sixth-chukker goal, Ulloa looked like he was having a blast out there. Seeming oblivious (though of course he wasn’t) to the other seven players, he made an ultra-confident Speedy Gonzales dash with the ball. Pretty soon everyone stopped trying to catch up with him and halted, as if frozen in a block of ice, and watched. On the approach Ulloa slowed his pony to a Western pleasure lope and tapped the ball with three evenly executed strokes into goal. That gave Modere a 9-5 lead.
In the next play Erskine galloped across the field at an unusual angle and swung once, delivering the ball almost directly under the nose of Johnston’s pony. She finished the goal. Ulloa made the final goal of the day with yet another of his swashbuckling moves. He stole the ball midfield and accelerated until he saw teammate Agustín Obregón patiently waiting ahead. Perfectly positioned to take the pass, Obregón finished it off for a four-goal win for Modere (10-6).
Photos by Lominska