Monday 9th August, Vitoria-Gasteiz
XALA – BARRIOLA beat TITIN III – ZUBIETA 22-14
Virgen Blanca Final
When the great defender Abel Barriola tore the cruciate ligament in his right knee in April 2009, some doubted that he would ever again reach the heights which saw him finish 2008 as the number one pelotari in the Basque Country. Since his return to competition five months ago, the man from Leitza has struggled for form and rhythm, showing flashes of the old Barriola in the Manomanista but rarely threatening. However, in the past week at Ogueta, he has gone a long way to silencing the doubters. It takes two to win a doubles title, but in Monday’s Virgen Blanca final, Barriola was the towering master, the difference between the sides, and the biggest winner.
In the way of Barriola and his partner, one half of the reigning Pairs Champion couple Xala, stood Titin, and Xala’s erstwhile partner Zubieta. In professional pelota pairs change competition by competition, but such was the bond between Xala and Zubieta in their victorious championship campaign that it seemed almost perverse to see them on opposing sides. Titin and Zubieta reached the final here by virtue of an excellent win over Irujo and Beloki, and they started well enough this time round. The first two points went against them, but Titin restored parity with a gantxo and a txoko, suggestive of a continuation of his rampant semi final form. An error from Barriola gave them a 3-2 lead and all seemed right in their world, but this was to be the only time they found themselves ahead in the match.
All four players committed more errors than they hit winners but the scale of each error count told its own story. Barriola, with a winner and only two errors, became the first defender in the history of the Virgen Blanca tournament to take home the prize awarded to the best player of the week. He was solid as a rock, returning everything his opponents threw his way and also played with his head, always in the right place at the right time whether awaiting the long ball or covering for Xala at the front. His opposite number, Aitor Zubieta, did not have such a stellar night, although his six errors obscure the quality of much of his play. He was frequently in command mid rally and suffered from the lack of spark shown by Titin, who was a shadow of the dynamic presence we saw in the semi final. Zubieta’s slips more often than not came as he tried in vain to push the margins, to try anything to pressure Barriola. Xala must thank his lucky stars for his defender, for like Titin he leaked mistakes. He was at times sparkling, and showed his power to dominate with icy calm, but eight errors, encompassing a worrying tendency to prod the ball low, was more than he can have countenanced.
The final failed to live up to the hype which preceded it, induced the quality of the earlier matches. The 1500 spectators at Ogueta, which has seen excellent ticket sales throughout the festival, may well have felt short changed. They did however witness the crowning of worthy winners, and the resurgence of one Abel Barriola, something in which all pelota fans can rejoice.
Scoring sequence: 0-2, 2-2, 3-2, 3-3, 3-7, 4-7, 5-7, 5-9, 7-9, 7-13, 11-13, 11-20, 14-20, 14-22.
Winners/Errors: Titin 3/6, Zubieta 1/6, Xala 7/8, Barriola 2/2
On Sunday, the final of the Torneo Manomanista Promoción La Blanca was contested between Lemuno and Merino II. The latter ran out the winner by 22 points to 16.
Image from Gara