Abel Barriola will be forced to watch tomorrow’s vital match at Astelena. The defender from Leitza has failed to recover from a hand injury sustained in last week’s match. He will be replaced by 29 year old fellow Navarran Pedro Martinez de Eulate Maestresalas for the game against defending champions Olaizola II and Mendizabal II. The winner will qualify for the semi-finals while the loser must wait on Monday’s final game to learn their fate.
Friday 20th February
BERASALUZE VIII – BEGINO beat TITIN III – PASCUAL 22-21
Covaleda’s Municipal fronton appeared more like a bullring than an arena for pelota on Friday night. Mano fans everywhere have awaited this final weekend of the quarter finals in feverish excitement; winning, which was previously highly desirable, has become crucial. In Friday’s encounter, the mathematics told us that Titin and Pascual would leave the competition if they lost. Berasaluze and Begino would proceed to the semi finals if they won and would have to wait and pray if they were defeated. Judging by the expression on his face as he entered the fronton, Titin wished to cast himself as the matador, but Berasaluze refused to play bull.
The tension of the four pelotaris was palpable, and little wonder. Errors were many, but that did not detract from a match in which emotions ran sky high and finger nails were destroyed. The pairs remained in fierce deadlock for the first sixteen points with neither building a lead of more than one. Latent tension simmered over after the fifth point when Titin appealed vociferously to the referee, claiming obstruction, before turning his anger to advantage in the next point which finished with Berasaluze sprawled in the midst of the crowd. Tension also seemed to bring confusion for the Aspe pair who both went for the same ball from Berasaluze which was, thankfully for them, a fraction wide. Titin was not the only one to let his emotions get the better of him; Berasaluze yelled like an angry lion when he hit high for no apparent reason and seemed to curse both himself and the world when he committed a falta on serve. Surely something had to give.
With the score at 8-8, Titin found a way to end the stalemate in the form of an unreachable crosscourt flick. Two errors from the Asegarce pair then handed Titin and Pascual a 12-8 lead in quicktime. Begino in particular looked uncertain and insecure, having repeatedly hit either short or wide, and a firm talking to from his botillero made little difference as he missed from the back again to send the Aspe lead to 13-8. Pascual, in contrast to his defensive opponent, had begun to hit his stride and one felt that he and Titin might now pull away, but Berasaluze would have none of it. What the forward from Berriz lacks in size he makes up for in tenacity and despite the brooding presence of the great Titin, nothing would stand between Pablito and his prize. Over the remaining course of the match he ran and hit with abandon, mixing perfectly judged hook winners with heroic efforts in defence as Titin, at times, struggled to match his vivacity.
But the Aspe pair hung on, all bared teeth and straining muscle, to level the score once again at 19-19. The errors continued as Begino, Berasaluze and Pascual hit low in turn. With the score at 20-20, Berasaluze barely failed to return a Titin drop and lay prostrate in desperate shock. With victory only inches away, Titin served to the chanting of his name but once again, Berasaluze levelled the match with a courageous overarm down the wall. And so, one point would decide the fortunes of these four warriors. One sensed nerves of steel would win the day and so it proved; the pocket battleship from Berriz served for glory, crossing himself and looking to the heavens, and then played a drop shot with the nonchalance more usually seen in a summer afternoon game against the church wall. Titin dived, slid and swiped but his effort was in vain. Without a word to anyone, he stood up and marched to the changing rooms, his face pure thunder. The victors were swamped by the jubilant masses as the Riojan flags hung as limp and still as the faces of those who had believed they would wave them in triumph. Berasaluze and Begino go through; Titin and Pascual will be back next year.
Scoring sequence (Titin and Pascual first): 0-1, 1-1, 1-2, 2-2, 2-3, 3-3, 4-3, 4-4, 4-5, 5-5, 6-5, 6-6, 7-6, 8-6, 8-7, 8-8, 9-8, 13-8, 13-9, 13-12, 16-12, 16-14, 17-14, 17-17, 17-18, 17-19, 18-19, 19-19, 20-19, 20-20, 21-20, 21-21 and 21-22