Sunday 23rd January, Eibar
BERASALUZE VIII – APRAIZ beat BENGOETXEA VI – PATXI RUIZ 22-17
The crowd at Astelena this afternoon seemed strangely subdued, perhaps not helped by the one sided opening match (Apezetxea and Arruti dismantled Idoate and Cecilio in their Promocion Championship game), and in similar fashion, the main event never really took off. The game between the two Asegarce pairs was a close one, but lacked sparkle, despite the best efforts of Pablo Berasaluze, who was on fire, and Alexis Apraiz who exerted sterling pressure. Bengoetxea and Ruiz were the favourites on paper, having won two of their three matches thus far, and holding an excellent prior track record as a combination, but they were uncharacteristically lacklustre, and surprisingly disorganised. Their defeat leaves the middle of the table wide open, and promises some tense encounters ahead.
Momentum traded hands several times over in the opening half of the game, and as the 12-12 scoreline suggested, the combinations were extremely evenly matched. Berasaluze and Apraiz were in the ascendency early, and proceeded to a 7-2 lead. Three of these points came from Berasaluze winners, and the forward from Berriz had his eye very much in from the off, but the reds were aided by four errors from a blue pair who seemed lacking in shape and direction. The game shifted for the first time when Apraiz hit carelessly high to allow Oinatz and Patxi the serve, and the next point, miraculously won by a gantxo from a covering Ruiz meant their tails were firmly up. Berasaluze pulled one back with a beautifully controlled point, but then three errors from the reds, and an easy crosscourt winner from Bengoetxea brought the game level at 8-8. In the period of play thereafter, neither team could break free, as Berasaluze and Apraiz went one up only to go two down thanks to two moments of Bengoetxea brilliance. Bengoetxea’s attempted third winner in a row went wide however, and Patxi miscued to make it 12-12. It was anybody’s game.
Most would have put money on Bengoetxea and Ruiz to slip up a gear at this juncture, being, in theory at least, the classier pairing, but the opposite happened, and the favourites began to look more and more out of sorts. Berasaluze went on the attack like a terrier in the next three points, forcing desperate defence from his opponents. Ruiz was heroic in his covering efforts in the first of them, but could do nothing to prevent the winning airez. Berasaluze’s gantxo in the next was pinpoint perfect, and the second of two beautifully timed drops in the third proved too much for Bengoetxea, who fell awkwardly and retired for treatment. On his return, Bengoetxea pulled his pair back to 13-15 with a dipping ball into the wall which he appeared to enjoy greatly, but the resurgence was not to be. In the next two rallies, the blue pair got themselves in what can only be described as mess. Several times previously, Bengoetxea had found himself out of position, making Patxi cover for him, and here they were forced round the wrong way twice in a row. Each made a valiant effort to carry out the other’s job but they were sitting ducks for both Apraiz, who pressured the unwilling defender, and Berasaluze who finished the job. A service winner and an unreturnable volley from Berasaluze ensued, and in quick time it was 19-13. The blues pulled two points back, before another mishap made it 20-15; this time Bengoetxea left a ball for Patxi, which Patxi could not reach. There was a miniature late rally from the pre match favourites, but it was too little too late, as the star of the show, Pablo Berasaluze, finished things off with a gantxo and a serve.
In the final analysis, both Berasaluze and Apraiz were a cut above their opponents. Despite collecting all the plaudits with a haul of twelve winners, Berasaluze must owe much of his success to the excellent delivery from the back of Apraiz. Apraiz also placed considerable pressure on Ruiz, who was unable to return many balls with the necessary air to evade the cutting arm of Berasaluze. Bengoetxea, though he was below his best, did produce seven winners, but he had little to work with, and often failed to do enough with his chances. There is no need for the losers to panic; despite a below par display, they still occupy third place in the table, level on points with their vanquishers who are in fourth. At this early stage, Xala-Barriola and Olaizola II-Begino appear to be the class of the tournament, but below them there is much to play for.
Scoring sequence: 0-1, 4-1, 4-2, 7-2, 7-4, 8-4, 8-8, 9-8, 9-9, 10-9, 10-10, 10-11, 10-12, 12-12, 15-12, 15-13, 16-13, 19-13, 19-15, 20-15, 20-17, 22-17.
Image from Noticias de Alava