AIKEN - The difference in play was simple for Millarville's Eduardo Novillo Astrada.
Monday's game against New Bridge meant nothing. Thursday's game, a semifinal match in the U.S. Polo Association's Gold Cup, meant everything.
Millarville avenged Monday's loss and beat New Bridge, 12-8, to earn a berth in Sunday's championship game. It will face Bendabout, a 12-8 winner over Skeeterville in Thursday's second semifinal game.
"Today we tried. We tried harder, and today we worked,'' Astrada said. "It's very difficult to play when you know that you can lose and you play for nothing.''
Monday's win put host New Bridge into the semifinals, but it got behind early and could never catch up Thursday.
Trailing 5-2 at halftime, Millarville added a pair of goals from Frederico Von Wernich to stretch the lead. Then the game was halted for several minutes when New Bridge's Russ McCall, who co-owns the polo farm, fell off his horse and was cut on the chin. He received several stitches but was otherwise OK.
His replacement, 11-year-old Santiago Torres, seemed to spark the home team as New Bridge cut the deficit to 8-6 midway through the fifth chukker. But Millarville retaliated with goals from Von Wernich and Magoo Laprida to snuff out the threat.
Astrada said a new strategy also helped Millarville.
"We played the whole system of playing,'' he said. "We couldn't show it the other day (in the 14-10 loss) because we knew we would have to play them again.''
Von Wernich led all scorers with seven goals. Carlos Gracida, who replaced top player Adolfo Cambiaso for New Bridge, led his team with four goals.
In the second semifinal game, Skeeterville took the early lead as Julio Arellano scored five goals in the first half to stake his team to a 6-2 lead early in the third chukker.
But Bendabout roared back with three goals from the Astrada brothers (Miguel and Alejandro) to make the score 6-5 at halftime, After the two teams traded goals in the fourth period, Bendabout seized control of the game with six consecutive scores as Skeeterville was able to score just a single goal.
"I felt like we were the underdogs today because we had lost to these guys before and they had been in the finals of the Open,'' said Tommy Biddle Jr., who scored a pair of goals for Bendabout. "Our big philosophy is to make a plan and stick to it. We know these guys, and you've got to stick to it and be patient. We stuck with our game plan from the throw in.''
Sunday's championship match will start at 5 p.m. and pit family against family. Eduardo Astrada's Millarville team will take on his brothers Miguel and Alejandro.
Reach John Boyette at (706) 823-3337 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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