Asegarce announced this morning that Patxi Ruiz will retire from professional pelota. The 32 year old defender from Estella has struggled with a long term back injury which has kept him off the fronton entirely for thirteen months. He last played on 9th January 2012, in the Pairs Championship in Tolosa, with no knowledge that that match would prove his last. He has been a professional for fifteen years, making his debut at Labrit on 14th November 1998. His greatest triumph was the 2003 Manomanista title, which he won over Aimar Olaizola. He was also runner up in the Pairs Championship of 2002, where he played alongside Asier Olaizola, and he took the Navarrese Cuatro y Medio title in 2004. Asegarce will organise a tribute to Ruiz, to take place on a date yet to be determined. We wish him well for his future life.
Cuatro y Medio round up: wins for Saralegi, Berasaluze VIII and Olaetxea, plus the winners and losers in the second tier
Sunday 9th October, Eibar
SARALEGI beat IDOATE 22-11
This was a first round result which surprised many, with Ekaitz Saralegi easily outplaying Mikel Idoate, the 22-year old who is tipped for great things. Idoate won his place in the 2011 main championship by winning last year’s Promocion competition in grand style, trouncing Merino II 22-7 in the final after an unbeaten campaign. Saralegi, not immune to creating upsets in major competitions, went out of last year’s championship in the first round, but has already gone one better in 2011 and will meet Xala in the quarter finals.
The game at Astelena was an uninspiring one. Idoate was never in the game from 2-3 onwards, going behind 2-8, 5-16 and 9-19 before succumbing without much real fight. Saralegi was dominant in all areas, creating space through tactical nouse and hitting winners with aplomb. He notched up fifteen winners in open play with an additional two on service. Idoate won seven of his points with winners, relying on the lapses of his opponent for the remaining four. Sadly for him, Saralegi was not well disposed to the granting of gifts, and it is the Gipuzkoan who marches on.
Scoring sequence: 3-0, 3-2, 8-2, 8-3, 8-4, 9-4, 9-5, 16-5, 16-6, 18-6, 18-8, 18-9, 19-9, 21-11, 22-11.
The other two main Championship matches to be held over the weekend also yielded easy winners. Both took place on Saturday in Pamplona, affording the Labrit fans a potentially intriguing double header which in the end fell rather short of drama. In the first game, PATXI RUIZ was outplayed by OLAETXEA, a pelotari very much in the ascendant, having won both the second tier Pairs and Manomanista so far this year. He won the second tier Cuatro y Medio in 2008, and showed his readiness for the major stage here, beating Ruiz 22-13. The second game of the evening saw BERASALUZE VIII put ARRETXE II to the sword by 22 points to 8. This was plain sailing for Berasaluze but he will face tougher times ahead; his next opponent is four-time Cuatro y Medio champion Aimar Olaizola.
In the second tier Promocion Championship, ARGOTE beat the spirited UNTORIA 22-16, ONGAY compounded CECILIO’s recent lack of form in a 22-8 drubbing, MENDIZABAL III withstood a comeback from ZABALETA to win 22-15, OLAZABAL, a recent returnee from injury, beat MERINO 22-8, TAINTA beat an off-colour IZA 22-9, and GORKA goes through after an injury to JAUNARENA forced the cancellation of their game.
For the full schedule of quarter final matches, see Asegarce.
Image from Deia
Saturday 14th May, Bilbao
OLAIZOLA II beat MARTINEZ DE IRUJO 22-18
This was pelota, but not as most play it. Aimar Olaizola and Juan Martinez de Irujo, a modern classic, played between two modern artists, always fuels the imagination and draws the crowds. Such was the confidence of the promoters that they charged 75 Euros for a top price ticket, almost double the cost of entry to Bengoetxea VI and Patxi Ruiz’s quarter final. Some quibbled at the asking price, in these troubled economic times, but those who coughed up were treated to a game in a million, between the defending champion and an Olaizola II at the height of his powers.
The infernal, rabid pace of the encounter drew gasps, as the two champions hurled themselves into the fray, desperate with desire for glory. Aimar made his chosen tactic apparent from the off, nullifying the Irujo serve by racing forward into the volley. In the midst of the rally too, he used the sotamano to seize the initiative, hitting 62 in all, 38% of the balls he struck in the match. This would seem outrageous to most pelotaris, professional or otherwise. When forced to, he defended the left wall with utter ferocity. Irujo returned fire, trying to beat Aimar at the volleying game, leading to some extraordinary rallies, full of near impossible shots and immense physicality. When he raced ahead 8-1 and 17-8, it seemed Aimar would bury Irujo quickly, but the man from Ibero is known for coming back from the death, and he scrapped back each time, to 8-10 and 18-19. In the end though, Aimar’s heat was the whiter, and there was nothing Irujo could do to halt his finishing kick.
The statistics speak of a close match, 13 winners to 10, 6 errors to 5, but it was Aimar who set the tempo, who dictated how the game should be played. It is to Irujo’s credit that he refused to lie down when the advantage of his opponent grew and grew again; his tenacity coupled with Aimar’s devastating mastery gave us a game for the ages, a recital in attack and defence, and a vision of platonic pelota. Goizueta’s finest will play Bengoetxea VI in the semi finals, and if he can maintain this irresistible force, it is hard to imagine him bowing out there.
Scoring sequence: 0-3, 1-3, 1-8, 7-8, 7-10, 8-10, 8-17, 14-17, 14-18, 16-18, 16-19, 18-19, 18-22.
Winners: Olaizola II 13, Irujo 10
Errors: Olaizola II 6, Irujo 5
Service winners: Olaizola II 4, Irujo 2
Service errors: Olaizola II 0, Irujo 0
Match time: 65:40 with 15:59 of actual play
Balls hit: 315
In the other quarter final to take place this past weekend, BENGOETXEA VI beat PATXI RUIZ 22-6 in Pamplona. This game was a near walkover for the 2008 champion, who took just 32 minutes to despatch his regular pairs partner. It was tight early on, but from 5-6, Bengoetxea was unstoppable against a lacklustre Ruiz, surging to 5-18 and 6-22. Bengoetxea served strongly, putting Ruiz on the back foot repeatedly, and dominated with his left, which brought seven points. Four of Ruiz’s points came from Bengoetxea errors, underlining the fact that the defeated player could find very little in the way of venom. Bengoetxea now plays Olaizola II, an entirely different proposition.
In the Promocion Championship, there were quarter final wins for Penagarikano, 22-14 over Ibai Zabala, and Olaetxea, who beat Ongay 22-17. They play each other on 29th May for a place in the final.
Sunday 13th March, Eibar
XALA – BARRIOLA beat BENGOETXEA VI – ALBISU 22-8
This match was all about Oinatz Bengoetxea and Jon Ander Albisu, and by extension, Patxi Ruiz. Yves Sallaberry (Xala) and Abel Barriola, the favourites, had already secured their berth in the semi finals, but for their opponents, this was crunch time. Their Asegarce colleagues, Iker Arretxe and Ibai Zabala had done their best to eliminate Martinez de Irujo and David Merino, but squandered a match point to lose 22-21, meaning that Bengoetxea and Albisu had to score at least ten points against Xala and Barriola to qualify. For Bengoetxea and his usual partner, Patxi Ruiz, this should have been a formality. However, with Ruiz injured, grave responsibility fell on the head of his replacement, inexperienced twenty year old Albisu. Given the track record of Bengoetxea and Ruiz as a pair over the past year, a semi final line up devoid of them would seem perverse, but Xala and Barriola were in no mood for charity, and Albisu was forced to leave the fronton, head in hands, with Bengoetxea high and dry.
The encounter started in the worst possible way for the Asegarce pair; Albisu hit high in open play, and then again from a Xala serve, allaying no fears about the possible state of his nerves. Bengoextea steadied the ship with a crosscourt flick, ending a hard fought point, to get his partnership on the board, but Xala showed that he could beat him at his own game in the very next point, before Albisu miscued twice more in the next three points. Bengoetxea subsequently rushed into a potential drop winner which met the ground instead of the frontis. Scoring was an arduous trial for the blue pair, who picked up points periodically, but could not establish any momentum. Bengoetxea’s class shone through with the winners he managed, notably in the two excellent drops on 2-8 and 3-8, the second of which revealed disorganisation in the red camp for the first, and perhaps only time in the game.
However, despite the sterling defensive efforts for which he has become renowned, Bengoetxea was unable to compensate for the lack of attacking platform afforded him by Albisu. It was assumed that Xala and Barriola would target the young defender as the weak link, but as things unfolded, it became clear that he would dig his own grave. Time and again he hit too high, perhaps attempting in vain to put some pressure on the relentless Barriola. More frustratingly for the blues, he threw away points which should have been theirs; on 5-12, Barriola was forced forward to cover a txoko, but was let off the hook by an error, the result of either carelessness or tension. Again, and more crucially, on 8-20, with the magic ten points almost in reach, he undid all the excellent scrapping forward work of Bengoetxea to concede match point.
While the flailing Asegarce duo tried in vain to accrue points, Xala and Barriola moved forward with all of their customary ease and grace. So reliable and efficient was Barriola that one hardly noticed his presence. He ran rings around his young counterpart without breaking a bead of sweat, to the extent that there was an almost audible gasp when he finally made an error on 20-7. Watching such a consummate master at work, it seems baffling that he has won as few major championships as he has. Consistency throughout the year, as in an individual match, is Barriola’s byword, but maybe this time around the rewards will come. Xala’s showing was less than totally perfect, but so dominant was he over Bengoetxea that his two errors were hardly noticed. Most of his mounting winners were achieved with brutal ease, whether rocketed crosscourt or tapped delicately into the corner. On the occasions when Bengoetxea did engage him in a scap, Xala more often than not had his number. Even in the close fight on 3-8 which Bengoetxea won, Xala’s pick-up off the floor, adjudged to have bounced twice, was an extremely close run thing.
So, it is over and out for Bengoetxea and Ruiz. With Ruiz in place, the necessary ten points would surely have come more easily. Albisu fought as hard as he could, and showed talent in spurts, but in truth he leaked points, and gave Bengoetxea little room to manoeuvre. The qualifying concerns of their rivals were of little import to Xala and Barriola, who continued on their serene journey through this championship. They head the final quartet, and it would be brave in the extreme to predict their exit before four becomes two.
Scoring sequence: 2-0, 2-1, 4-1, 4-2, 8-2, 8-4, 9-4, 9-5, 17-5, 17-6, 20-6, 20-8 and 22-8.
Match time: 47.04 minutes, with 21.22 minutes of play
Service winners: Xala 4, Bengoetxea 0
Winners: Xala 9, Barriola 0, Bengoetxea 4, Albisu 0
Errors: Xala 2, Barriola 1, Bengoetxea 3, Albisu 5
Image from Diario Vasco
Friday 4th March, Amorebieta
TITIN III – BEROIZ* beat ARRETXE II – IBAI ZABALA 22-6
Mikel Beroiz stood in for Inigo Pascual on Friday, and helped Titin to an extremely valuable win over another pair of substitutes, Iker Arretxe and Ibai Zabala, who have no hope of making the last four. The Aspe pair looked like an established partnership, and moved with unity of purpose towards an easy win, in which they were never remotely troubled. Both players were leagues ahead of their opponents, who proved unable to exert any pressure at all. As a contest, this was a non-event, but many aficionados surely revelled in an excellent and cool display of pelota from the victors. Titin and Pascual now lie in fifth, one place out of the qualifying spots, but they are level on points Gonzalez and Laskurain one place above them, so everything is to play for.
Scoring sequence: 4-0 / 4-1 / 10-1 / 10-2 / 15-2 / 18-3 / 18-4 / 20-4 / 20-6 / 22-6
Sunday 6th March, Eibar
BENGOETXEA VI – PATXI RUIZ beat GONZALEZ – LASKURAIN 22-18
This was always likely to be a closely fought game, given the similarity in fortunes of these two pairs in the championship thus far, and so it proved as the advantage swung back and forth throughout. Gonzalez and Laskurain held sway early on, but Oinatz Bengoetxea was instrumental in the Asegarce duo’s resurgence in the second half of the match, as he turned the tables on Gonzalez in expert fashion. He finished with a whopping fifteen winners. The defenders were evenly matched; Laskurain played a more involved part in the game, but Ruiz was excellent when called upon. The winners now sit third, level on points with Olaizola II and Begino in second. Gonzalez and Laskurain are a further point back in fourth.
Scoring sequence: 0-3 / 1-3 / 2-3 / 2-5 / 5 / 9-5 / 9-7 / 10-7 / 10 / 11 / 14-11 / 14 / 14-16 / 16 / 16 – 21 / 18-21 / 18-22
Monday 7th March, Tolosa
XALA – ZABALETA beat OLAIZOLA II – BEGINO 22-21
Tolosa witnessed the shock of the week. Had Xala lined up with his normal partner, Barriola, they would have been the favourites, but with Barriola injured, the young and inexperienced Zabaleta stepped in. Aspe clearly wanted to give him a test, safe in the knowledge that the star pair had qualified anyway, and he did not disappoint, helping to condemn the former leaders, now in second to a fourth straight defeat. It took Zabaleta a while to settle, but once he did, there was little stopping his pair. Xala was majesterial form, putting thirteen Winters past his opponents. With Barriola back and healthy, it will take much to stop this pair. Despite their recent meltdown, Olaizola and Begino still sit second, thanks to their six straight wins at the start of the tournament. The odds are that they will be safe.
Scoring sequence: 0-1/1/3-1/3-2/6-3/8-4/10-5/15-11/18-14/18/19/20/21-20/21/21- 22
Tuesday 8th March, Tolosa
BERASALUZE VIII – APRAIZ beat MARTINEZ DE IRUJO – MERINO II 22-18
Pablo Berasaluze and Alexis Apraiz will struggle to make the semi finals, but this victory has at least given them the chance. The red pair of Juan Martinez de Irujo and David Merino looked the better almost throughout thanks to the play of Irujo and the hesitancy of Apraiz. However, at 15-18 down, Berasaluze took the game into his hands, unleashing a barrage of left handed hooks to condemn Irujo to a bit part. The blues scored seven points unanswered to take the tie and keep their hopes alive, though they lie second from bottom. Irujo and Merino are one place, and one point, above in sixth.
Scoring sequence: 0-2/4-2/4-3/6-3/6/10-6/10-11/15-11/15-12/17-12/17-15/18-15/18-22
|PAREJA||JUG.||GAN.||PERD.||T. FAV.||T. CON||COEF|
|1||XALA – BARRIOLA||10||8||2||216||147||+69|
|2||OLAIZOLA II – BEGINO||10||6||4||197||186||+11|
|3||BENGOETXEA VI – P. RUIZ||10||6||4||187||179||+8|
|4||GONZALEZ – LASKURAIN||10||5||5||191||174||+17|
|5||TITIN III – PASCUAL||10||5||5||190||186||+4|
|6||MTZ IRUJO – MERINO II||10||5||5||168||183||-5|
|7||BERASALUZE VIII – APRAIZ||10||4||6||180||189||-9|
|8||OLAIZOLA I – BELOKI||10||1||9||119||214||-95|
Pairs Championship: Bengoetxea/Ruiz and Gonzalez/Laskurain take their places in the qualification fight
Friday 25th February, Azkaine
GONZALEZ – LASKURAIN beat ARRETXE II – IBAI ZABALA 22-19
Gonzalez and Laskruain were the overwhelming favourites for this game, which took place in front of a crowd of 700 in the former’s backyard. However, Iker Arretxe and Ibai Zabala caused them no end of worry, and pushed them all the way to the line, maintaining stalemate at 10, 11, 12, 14, 16, 17 and 18, before finally succumbing to the cool heads of their more seasoned rivals, after a whopping 1030 balls. Arretxe was the player of the match, resourceful and successful in attack, as the underdogs threw caution to the wind; as substitutes for Olaizola I and Beloki they had little to lose, and a gilt edged opportunity to make a name for themselves. In the end though, Gonzalez and Laskurain joined the group of five vying for the remaining three qualifying spots behind Xala and Barriola.
Scoring sequence: 0-1/1/4-1/4/4-6/6/9-6/10-7/10/11/12/14-12/14/14-16/16/17/18/20-18/20-19/22-19
Duration 106 minutes, with 53 minutes of playing time and 1030 balls struck
Sunday 27th February, Logrono
BENGOETXEA VI – PATXI RUIZ beat TITIN III – PASCUAL 22-19
This was as close as it gets to a crunch game: both pairs needed a victory to avoid the predicament of having to win both of their remaining matches to qualify. In a tense affair, full of emotion, it was the Asegarce pair who prevailed. Bengoetxea and Ruiz kept their noses in front for most of the match; they led 5-0, before their opponents came back and took over by eight points to five, but once they regained the lead, they never let it go. The Aspe duo gave the Titin tifosi something to cheer about when they came to within one point of parity at 19-20, but they lacked the killer punch of their opponents. All played with skill and passion, but Patxi Ruiz’ was the standout performance. Asegarce will no doubt be delighted that he controlled the game as he did, with no hint of discomfort from his lately rather troublesome hands.
Scoring sequence: 0-5 / 5 / 5-7 / 7 / 8 / 8-6 / 9-10 / 9-11 / 10-12 / 12 / 12-14 / 12-13 / 13-17 / 15-17 / 16-19 / 17-19 / 18-20 / 19-20 / 19-22
Duration 81 minutes, with 30 minutes of playing time, and 671 balls struck.
Image from Deia, by Iban Aguinaga
Friday 11th February, Urduliz
GONZALEZ – LASKURAIN beat BERASALUZE VIII – APRAIZ 22-18
Friday’s match in the Bizkaian town or Urduliz was expected to be a close one, and so it proved. Sebastien Gonzalez and Aritz Laskurain had one their previous two matches after an extremely slow start in the championship, and Pablo Berasaluze and Alexis Apraiz were coming off two wins, and a near upset against the table toppers. The crowds were treated to an exciting and tough exhibition, which lasted 76 minutes and 612 balls. Although it was always close, and there was little to choose between the pairs, Gonzalez and Laskurain ran out the deserving winners. The latter was the difference between the sides, coming out on top in a tit for tat fight with Apraiz, and ending as the best player of the night.
Saturday 12th February, Pamplona
BENGOETXEA VI – PATXI RUIZ beat XALA – BARRIOLA 22-21
Oinatz Bengoetxea and Patxi Ruiz seized their fourth point of the championship with a tense and thrilling win over pre-tournament favourites Yves Salaberry and Abel Barriola. Both forwards and backs fought tooth and nail. Patxi Ruiz just shaded Barriola, but both pulled off impressive feats. Xala’s vehement attack was repelled time and again by Bengoetxea, whose defence was magnificent. He also took the attack to Xala with a wide range of shot play. Patxi Ruiz strained his calf with the score on 18-17, and when he returned from the locker room was restricted in the shots he could manage. Xala and Barriola went ahead 21-19, and looked as if the momentum would stay with them, but Bengoetxea and Ruiz fought back doggedly to take the win by the smallest possible margin.
Saturday 12th February, Tafalla
MARTINEZ DE IRUJO – MERINO II beat OLAZOLA I – BELOKI 7-4 (Olaizola I retired injured)
The game in Tafalla was brought to an unfortunate and abrupt end when Asier Olaizola was forced to retire with a knee injury. With the score at 7-4, and with everything still to play for, the forward from Goizueta twisted awkwardly and had to be helped from the fronton. He underwent a scan in Vitoria-Gasteiz this morning, and we await word from Asegarce on the extent of his injury.
Sunday 13th February, Logrono
TITIN III – PASCUAL beat OLAIZOLA II – BEGINO 22-21
Table toppers Aimar Olaizola and Aritz Begino suffered their first loss of the competition, succumbing by one point to Titin and Pascual at Adarraga. In a match full of emotion and excitement from first until last, the Asegarce duo looked to have matters under control, going ahead 3-10, 6-13 and 13-17. However, Titin masterminded a comeback, playing with passion and intensity in front of his home fans. Supported excellently by Pascual at the back, he drew his pair level at 17-17, before they surged ahead 20-17. Aimar and Aritz fought their way back to 20-21, but two errors from Begino handed the game to Titin and Pascual, who have reversed their fortunes dramatically from their drubbing by Gonzalez and Laskurain last week. Olaizola and Begino, however, remain in isolation at the top of the standings. This result will have provided them with a shock, but they are as good as safe and will put it behind them.
The championship now moves into its second round robin phase, in which each pair plays the four from the opposing empresa across four weeks of games. The schedule for this section of the competition can be viewed at Asegarce. The table at this point in proceedings indicates the closeness in ability of many of the couples. Olaizola II-Begino and Xala-Barriola have served up the most quality, and looked virtually assured of places in the semi finals, but behind them things are very tight. Bengoetxea VI-Patxi Ruiz are next best, having won four of their seven matches, while four pairs are tied on three wins. Olaizola I-Beloki seem out of it, but for everyone else, it is all to play for. See here for the full table.
The Second Tier championship, which mirrors to pattern of the main competition, also moves into its next phase next weekend. There, it looks to be a six-pair fight for the semi final berths. Apezetxea-Cecilio top the table, while Jaunarena-Larrinaga and Urrutikoetxea-Iza appear down and out. For the full table, see Manista, and for remaining fixtures see Asegarce.
Image from Manista, by Carlos Zuluaga
Affairs are hotting up in the Pairs Championship; with six rotions gone, we have a good idea of who may fill the semi final berths. Two pairs have all but qualified, one is all but out, and the rest are fighting for their lives. For the full table visit Manista.com, here. For remaining fixtures, see Asegarce, here.
(Apologies for the lack of in-depth reports; I was unable to see much of the play this weekend!)
Friday 4th February, Covaleda
GONZALEZ – LASKURAIN beat TITIN III – PASCUAL 22-10
Sebastien Gonzalez and Aritz Laskurain kept alive their hopes of reaching the last four, with what turned into a crushing defeat of Augusto Ibanez and Inigo Pascual in Covaleda. It was expected to be a tight game, and so it proved for the first twenty points, the pairs reaching stalemate at 10-10 after a tough fight, especially in the back division. However, at this juncture, Titin and Pascual inexplicably capitulated, as their opponents took the next 12 points to win 22-10. Gonzalez and Laskurain looked the cooler and the more efficient, as well as the more inventive, and Titin failed to fire, hitting only five winners to Gonzalez’ seven. The signs are good for the winners, but as a contest, the game all but fizzled out. These two pairs now sit level on points in 5th and 6th positions, with Gonzalez and Laskurain ahead on points difference.
Scoring sequence: 3-0, 3-1, 4-1, 4-2, 5-2, 5-4, 6-4, 6-6, 7-7, 8-8, 9-9, 10-10, 10-22.
Saturday 5th February, Zalla
OLAIZOLA II – BEGINO beat BERASALUZE VIII – APRAIZ 22-19
Aimar Olaizola and Aritz Begino kept their unbeaten record alive in Zalla on Saturday, but they were made to work for their victory against a pair very much in the ascendant. Olaizola and Begino were ahead throughout the contest, but never managed to shed their opponents from their coat tails. Berasaluze and Apraiz were seven points behind at 6-13 but scrapped their way back into contention, pushing the eventual winners all the way and making them sweat as they squandered their first two match points. The heart of the encounter lay in defence, where the two evenly matched protagonists fielded strings of improbable balls at will. Berasaluze took the fight to Olaizola in attack, reading the game expertly, and finishing with more winners than his rival. However, Olaizola and Begino produced the goods when it mattered, and remain atop the table, as the only partnership not to drop a game
Scoring sequence: 0-1, 0-5, 1-5, 2-5, 2-6, 3-6, 3-7, 4-7, 4-8, 4-9, 5-9, 5-10, 5-11, 6-11, 6-12, 6-13, 7-13, 12-13, 12-14, 12-16, 13-16, 14-16, 14-17, 14-18, 15-18, 15-19, 16-19, 17-19, 19-20, 17-21, 18-21, 19-21, 19-22.
Saturday 5th February, Idiazabal
BENGOETXEA VI – PATXI RUIZ beat OLAIZOLA I – BELOKI 22-9
The game in Idiazabal went entirely as predicted, with a resounding win for Oinatz Bengoetxea and Patxi Ruiz, who got their campaign back on track after some recent wobbles. The greatest disparity in quality lay in the forwards, where Bengoextea easily eclipsed Asier Olaizola, who has had a torrid time in the competition thus far. Olaizola and Beloki made it their aim to wear Patxi Ruiz down, but their strategy backfired, as the defender from Estella displayed some excellent form and refused to be bowed. There was no contingency plan for the reds, or if there was they proved unable to execute it, and they remain bottom, while Bengoetxea and Ruiz cling onto the last qualification spot in fourth.
Scoring sequence: 0-4, 1-4, 1-6, 2-6, 2-7, 4-7, 4-8, 5-8, 5-12, 6-12, 6-16, 7-16, 7-19, 9-19, 9-22
Sunday 6th February, Eibar
XALA – BARRIOLA beat MARTINEZ DE IRUJO – MERINO II 22-14
Sunday’s match at Astelena promised much excitement, if only because it is increasingly difficult to predict what Irujo and Merino will bring to the table. Aspe’s mixture of youth and experience has failed to gel, but alone, each of its parts is capable of incredible things. However, as the rational predicted, this was an easy victory for Xala and Barriola, the proven and tested class of the empresa. The eventual winners played with firmness of purpose and ruthless efficiency, testing Merino to his limits and exerting total control. As a partnership, they operate like clockwork. Irujo was unable to find any spark in attack until it was far too late. The reds, who were never within reach, face a near impossible fight to qualify for the semi finals, while Xala and Barriola, who sit second, are virtually assured of progression.
Scoring sequence: 0-2, 1-2, 2-3, 2-7, 3-7, 3-10, 5-10, 5-12, 6-12, 6-13, 7-13, 8-17, 9-17, 10-17, 12-19, 14-19, 14-22.
Image from Noticias de Navarra, by J. Sampedro
Pairs Championship: wins for Berasaluze VIII-Apraiz, Gonzalez-Laskurain, and Titin III-Pascual in week 5
Friday 28th January, Estella-Lizarra
BERASALUZE VIII – APRAIZ beat MARTINEZ DE IRUJO – MERINO II 22-7
After their resurgence last week, when they beat Gonzalez and Laskurain comfortably, many assumed that Irujo and Merino II were now back on track, after their disastrous start in the championship. They were the clear favourites for this fifth week match, but the gremlins reappeared for the Aspe duo, as they met a pairing still riding the crest of a wave after their own fourth week win. Berasaluze and Apraiz outgunned their rivals with ease, Pablo dominating even more than he had done against Bengoetxea VI the week before against an Irujo who was a shadow of his usual self, managing only two winners to his opposite number’s twelve. Merino, while promising and at times brilliant, is still developing, and this was not his finest hour. Is it over and out for the experimental pairing.
Saturday 29th January, Pamplona
GONZALEZ – LASKURAIN beat BENGOETXEA VI – PATXI RUIZ 22-7
After their outstanding 2010 as a pairing, much was expected of Oinatz Bengoetxea and Patxi Ruiz in this year’s contest, but alter two successive defeats, it seems the wheels are coming off. Last week they lost in a closer tussle with Berasaluze and Apraiz, but this time round it was a disaster for the Asegarce hopes. They started well, but as Gonzalez and Laskurain, who were yet to win a match in the competition, swung into action, their opponents had no answer and were outplayed in every department. Neither pair is well placed in the overall standings, but their trajectories Could barely be more different.
Sunday 30th January, Logrono
TITIN III – PASCUAL beat OLAIZOLA I – BELOKI 22-20
After two one sided onslaughts came a far closer match down in Rioja. Titin and Pascual squeezed past Asier Olaizola and Beloki to keep their hopes of reaching the last four alive, and they showed great resilience in coming from behind to take the point. For the most part, the sides were evenly matched; Beloki began well but Pascual, playing better than in recent weeks, was able to match him, and likewise at the front, Olaizola and Titin both winner and errors in turn. The Asegarce pair was ahead for much of the match, and although they were never more than four points in arrears, they appeared as if they would keep their noses in front. However, with the score at 17-19, Titin and Pascual pounced, taking five points without reply. Olaizola and Beloki managed to scrape one back, but the momentum had shifted, terminally.
Image from Gara
Sunday 23rd January, Eibar
BERASALUZE VIII – APRAIZ beat BENGOETXEA VI – PATXI RUIZ 22-17
The crowd at Astelena this afternoon seemed strangely subdued, perhaps not helped by the one sided opening match (Apezetxea and Arruti dismantled Idoate and Cecilio in their Promocion Championship game), and in similar fashion, the main event never really took off. The game between the two Asegarce pairs was a close one, but lacked sparkle, despite the best efforts of Pablo Berasaluze, who was on fire, and Alexis Apraiz who exerted sterling pressure. Bengoetxea and Ruiz were the favourites on paper, having won two of their three matches thus far, and holding an excellent prior track record as a combination, but they were uncharacteristically lacklustre, and surprisingly disorganised. Their defeat leaves the middle of the table wide open, and promises some tense encounters ahead.
Momentum traded hands several times over in the opening half of the game, and as the 12-12 scoreline suggested, the combinations were extremely evenly matched. Berasaluze and Apraiz were in the ascendency early, and proceeded to a 7-2 lead. Three of these points came from Berasaluze winners, and the forward from Berriz had his eye very much in from the off, but the reds were aided by four errors from a blue pair who seemed lacking in shape and direction. The game shifted for the first time when Apraiz hit carelessly high to allow Oinatz and Patxi the serve, and the next point, miraculously won by a gantxo from a covering Ruiz meant their tails were firmly up. Berasaluze pulled one back with a beautifully controlled point, but then three errors from the reds, and an easy crosscourt winner from Bengoetxea brought the game level at 8-8. In the period of play thereafter, neither team could break free, as Berasaluze and Apraiz went one up only to go two down thanks to two moments of Bengoetxea brilliance. Bengoetxea’s attempted third winner in a row went wide however, and Patxi miscued to make it 12-12. It was anybody’s game.
Most would have put money on Bengoetxea and Ruiz to slip up a gear at this juncture, being, in theory at least, the classier pairing, but the opposite happened, and the favourites began to look more and more out of sorts. Berasaluze went on the attack like a terrier in the next three points, forcing desperate defence from his opponents. Ruiz was heroic in his covering efforts in the first of them, but could do nothing to prevent the winning airez. Berasaluze’s gantxo in the next was pinpoint perfect, and the second of two beautifully timed drops in the third proved too much for Bengoetxea, who fell awkwardly and retired for treatment. On his return, Bengoetxea pulled his pair back to 13-15 with a dipping ball into the wall which he appeared to enjoy greatly, but the resurgence was not to be. In the next two rallies, the blue pair got themselves in what can only be described as mess. Several times previously, Bengoetxea had found himself out of position, making Patxi cover for him, and here they were forced round the wrong way twice in a row. Each made a valiant effort to carry out the other’s job but they were sitting ducks for both Apraiz, who pressured the unwilling defender, and Berasaluze who finished the job. A service winner and an unreturnable volley from Berasaluze ensued, and in quick time it was 19-13. The blues pulled two points back, before another mishap made it 20-15; this time Bengoetxea left a ball for Patxi, which Patxi could not reach. There was a miniature late rally from the pre match favourites, but it was too little too late, as the star of the show, Pablo Berasaluze, finished things off with a gantxo and a serve.
In the final analysis, both Berasaluze and Apraiz were a cut above their opponents. Despite collecting all the plaudits with a haul of twelve winners, Berasaluze must owe much of his success to the excellent delivery from the back of Apraiz. Apraiz also placed considerable pressure on Ruiz, who was unable to return many balls with the necessary air to evade the cutting arm of Berasaluze. Bengoetxea, though he was below his best, did produce seven winners, but he had little to work with, and often failed to do enough with his chances. There is no need for the losers to panic; despite a below par display, they still occupy third place in the table, level on points with their vanquishers who are in fourth. At this early stage, Xala-Barriola and Olaizola II-Begino appear to be the class of the tournament, but below them there is much to play for.
Scoring sequence: 0-1, 4-1, 4-2, 7-2, 7-4, 8-4, 8-8, 9-8, 9-9, 10-9, 10-10, 10-11, 10-12, 12-12, 15-12, 15-13, 16-13, 19-13, 19-15, 20-15, 20-17, 22-17.
Image from Noticias de Alava