Saturday 13th March, Pamplona
TITIN III – PASCUAL beat MARTINEZ DE IRUJO – BEROIZ 22-21
Pairs Semi Finals
The equation was simple: victory would mean a chance to fight again, and loss the end of the road. Juan Martinez de Irujo and Mikel Beroiz, and Augusto Ibanez and Inigo Pascual both arrived in Pamplona on Saturday with a defeat in the bag in the semi final league and each fought to swim rather than sink as if their lives were at stake. The great cauldron that is Labrit was again bursting at the seams with enthusiasts who had debated the outcome of this match all week long, and they brought the house down with the fervour of their support. It is a given that any contest between Irujo and Titin will be a scorcher, and with the peculiar circumstance of this meeting factored in, the intensity doubled. It seemed therefore an inevitable twist of fate that the scoreboard showed 21-21, with one rally left to win it all.
The four players were inevitably wracked with tension as play got underway. Irujo, as is his wont, attempted to blow his nerves out of the water and came out like a raging bull, desperate to reach 22 as quickly as possible. Despite his attacking mode, Titin took the first advantage, and a lead of 2-0. Irujo then pulled his pair level with a sotamano after Pascual had gifted them their first point. 2-2 became 3-3 and nothing and nobody seemed ready to crack. However, Irujo and Beroiz surged forward by means of some excellent shot play and solid defence, to a lead of 7-3, and then 15-7. The favourites looked set, but not so, for it was now the turn of Titin and Pascual to show their colours. Pascual grew into the game in impressive fashion, becoming more assured with every play, and he gradually gained the upper hand over young Beroiz, who had scarcely shown any sign of nerves the tournament long. Titin imposed himself with determination and fight and they worked as a well oiled machine to draw level at 18-18. Once again it was game on. Irujo and Beroiz looked to have restored some semblance of calm, advancing to 20-18, but once again their rivals fought back, and when parity at 21 arrived, the roof of Labrit seemed ready to lift off its walls. Irujo, the player of the tournament up until this point, it was who sealed the deal for Titin and Pascual with a missed gantxo. The favourites were out and joy reigned supreme for the Riojan giant and his Navarrese partner.
In the midst of the quarter final rounds, few would have put money on Irujo and Beroiz failing to reach the final. Last year’s winning forward and his young brother in arms looked untouchable at one stage, but began in the later weeks to show their fallibility, with a loss to Berasaluze and Begino. Gonzalez and Laskurain exploited their few weaknesses to win last week and Titin and Pascual have now completed the kill. They will move forward to a winner takes all showdown for a place in the final next weekend, and if force of will were enough to win, they would be odds on. Three couples now fight for two places; who will be next to bite the dust?
Scoring sequence: 0-2, 2-2, 3-2, 3-3, 7-3, 7-5, 9-5, 9-6, 10-7, 15-7, 15-13, 17-13, 17-15, 18-15, 18-18, 18-20, 20-20, 20-21, 21-21, 21-22