Saturday sees the final of the Campeonato Parejas Promocion, the second division pairs championship, featuring the ‘best of the rest’ who are not involved in the top tier affair. I have said little about this competition as owing to the constraints of time, I have to prioritise, but for the players involved it is a big deal. Eight pairs have been fighting it out weekly since January 17th:
From Asegarce: Urrutikoetxea-Argote, Diaz-Apraiz, Saralegi-Eskudero, Arretxe II-Ibai Zabala
From Aspe: Cabrerizo-Larrinaga, Aritz Lasa-Merino, Olazabal-Arruti, Retegi Bi-Cecilio
Eight weeks later we were down to the top four. In the first semi final, Arretxe II-Ibai Zabala beat Olazabal-Arruti 22-9 and in the second, Saralegi-Eskudero triumphed over Aritz Lasa-Merino by 22 points to 15. The all-Asegarce final will go some way towards restoring dented pride after the Aspe rout in the first division championship.
On paper, the finalists look evenly matched. Each pair won five and lost three in the initial round robin stage, and each won their semi final convincingly. The form book is however troublesome, as Inaki Eskudero was the only player to take part in every match. Ekaitz Saralegi was absent from the tournament for three consecutive weeks when he was called up to substitute for the injured Asier Olaizola in the main championship. He was replaced by Aratz Mendizabal, and in that time, the pair suffered two of their three losses, one a particularly heavy defeat to Aritz Lasa and Merino in week seven. The reintroduction of Saralegi turned their fortunes and his presence in the final will be a big fillip given his lively recent form.
Three substitutes played for the Arretxe II-Ibai Zabala pair. Both Kepa Penagarikano and Hodei Beobide stood in for Ibai Zabala, in weeks five and six respectively, and in the eighth week, Iker Arretxe was replaced by Mikel Olaetxea. It is difficult therefore to judge the consistency of this pairing, but of the six games they played together, including the semi final, five were won, which can only bode well.
In terms of past championship pedigree, Arretxe II gives his pair the upper hand. The 24 year old forward from Valcarlos in Navarre already has one edition of this title to his name from 2006. He has also been runner up in both this competition, in 2008, and the second tier Manomanista in 2006. His partner Ibai Zabala, who is 22 and hails from Berriz in Bizkaia, was runner up in this tournament last year, with Aratz Mendizabal. As far as their opponents are concerned, Eskudero is the more decorated, despite Saralegi’s higher current ranking. The 27 year old from Erasun in Navarre was runner up in this competition in both 2005 and 2008, with Leiza and Saturday’s opponent Arretxe II respectively. The latter resulted, indicentally, in a 2-22 rout against Retegi Bi and Argote. Saralegi, 30, from Amezketa in Gipuzkoa, surprisingly, has never won a championship of any level.
The election of material went ahead yesterday, Wednesday, without incident. The balls chosen were as follows:
Saralegi-Eskudero: 106, 104.3 and 105.3g
Arretxe II-Ibai Zabala: 106.9, 104.8 and 104.8g
The game, which takes place at Labrit in Pamplona, will be shown on etb-sat on Saturday 27th March, along with a highly attractive curtain raiser between Martinez de Irujo-Eulate and Olaizola II-Apraiz. The broadcast starts at 18.05 and ends at 20.30. To watch, go to https://www.eitb.eus/television/etb-sat
Image from: Gara