Sunday 21st March, Logrono
GONZALEZ – LASKURAIN beat TITIN III – PASCUAL 22-16
Pairs Semi Finals
After Saturday’s starter, in which Xala and Zubieta cemented their credentials as txapela contenders, came Sunday’s main course which would decide who would meet them at the top table. The eyes of the pelota world alighted upon Adarraga, in the Riojan town of Logrono, the home fronton of Titin III, and the stage seemed set for the local hero to grasp the last pass to the final. The baying crowd certainly hoped and prayed for such an outcome, and for Gonzalez and Laskurain, this fixture must have felt like running headlong into the jaws of the enemy. However, the ‘away’ couple were not to be overawed, and clinched their ticket to Ogueta in commanding style.
Aritz Laskurain, the unassuming but quietly devastating defender from Soraluze in Gipuzkoa, was the man of the match. He has played this year as if newly invigorated, and can now eye his first major final since 2008, when he along with Titin lost in the final of this very competition to Olaizola II and Mendizabal II. He seems a more consistent player these days, having held his form almost the tournament through, and read the game on Sunday with aplomb. He dominated Pascual, who himself has turned in some stellar performances of late, including that of last weekend, which eliminated Irujo and Beroiz. He and Gonzalez went for the jugular from the drop of the flag, racing to a 14-2 lead, and putting Titin under extraordinary pressure in the process. That the eventual losers pulled the score back to 22-16 by the end could be seen as something of a triumph but in reality their comeback ensued only after Gonzalez and Laskurain had let their foot off the gas. All Rioja was stunned into silence.
Many believed that the insatiable desire of Titin, coupled with the ruthless form of Pascual, would see them through, but they reckoned without the emergence of a rival pair who’s eyes are focussed firmly on the prize. The upshot is that Gonzalez will face Xala in attack on April 4th in the first all-French-Basque forward battle in the history of championship finals. Xala has been the more consistent across the tournament as a whole but Gonzalez on his day can beat anyone in the world, as he showed in the Cuatro y Medio final against Irujo in December. The defensive battle will be no less fascinating, with a white hot Laskurain fighting Zubieta, who has grown by ten feet since January. After nearly three months of enthralling sport, all is set for the Eastertide showdown in Vitoria-Gasteiz.
Scoring sequence: 0-3, 2-6, 2-14, 4-14, 4-15, 5-15, 7-15, 6-16, 10-16, 10-17, 13-17, 13-18, 13-20, 16-20, 16-22.
Image from: Gara