Saturday 15th May, Pamplona
OLAIZOLA I beat BARRIOLA 22-18
Manomanista Group A
In a game of high intensity and great excitement at the cathedral of Labrit, Asier Olaizola overcame the staunch challenge of Abel Barriola to all but claim a place in the semi finals of the 2010 Manomanista. Had he lost here, he would have been forced to wait for the result of the match on Sunday between Martinez de Irujo and Bengoetxea VI, where a win for Bengoetxea would mean elimination for the Goizuetarra. As it was, this sterling victory meant qualification, unless Bengoetxea could beat Irujo by more than eight points.
The game was one of sporadic quality. Both pelotaris displayed stunning skill at times but both also lapsed. However, the real quality of the evening came in the form of its scintillating atmosphere, stirred up by the knowledge of all concerned that this encounter truly mattered. The large crowd roared and rippled like the sea. At first, Olaizola rode the crest of the wave, moving to a 4-1 lead with some authority. It was not to last though, as a lapse in his early intensity opened the door for Barriola, who at 9-4 to the good found himself in a position of some strength. He was able to control points, pushing Olaizola back relentlessly, and it appeared that his pre-injury verve had returned, albeit too late for him to qualify. However, Olaizola took his chance to regain the serve with both hands, and astonished all concerned with a run of fifteen straight points. He served excellently, and displayed the killer punch that Barriola increasingly lacked, on his way to registering a total of thirteen clean winners in the match. It is to be expected that after nearly a year off with a serious knee injury, Barriola will take time to return to the boil, but he looked slow here and lacked spark. Sharp movement is obviously not yet easy. However, having arrived a mere three points short of the prize, Olaizola stuttered, and his errors allowed Barriola back into the game. In his last match, against Irujo, Olaizola had allowed a massive lead to slip; surely it would not happen again? Thankfully for him, he regained his composure, not without some necessary risk taking, and moved with relief from 20-18 to 22-18.
The relief was palpable on the face of the older Olaizola; he had done all he could, and could return home to await his fate in the knowledge that he had left everything on the fronton. Barriola was below his very high par, as he has been all tournament, and one can only hope that the real pelotari will step forward very soon. The loser was, as ever, gracious in defeat, and congratulated Olaizola with warmth. As he retired to leave his brother in the limelight, botillero Aimar granted Asier a firm pat on the back; job well done.
Scoring sequence: 2-0, 2-1, 4-1, 4-9, 19-9, 19-13, 20-13, 20-18, 22-18