Cuatro y Medio: Barriola aims for another final with victory over Xala

Sunday 30th October, Eibar

BARRIOLA beat XALA 22-15

Abel Barriola is unusual in being a defender who is an expert player of the Cuatro y Medio variety of pelota mano. It is a game more suited to forwards who are used to the lightning cut and thrust of play close to the frontis, a fact borne out by the identities of the tournament’s recent string of winners which has included Olaizola II. Irujo, Titin III and Gonzalez. Barriola was one of only two defenders to start in this year’s championship, and the other, Patxi Ruiz, fell at the first hurdle. The man from Leitza has twice been a runner up in the 2000s, both times to Irujo, and is once again flying the flag for his breed. Sunday’s win over Manomanista Champion Xala was a triumph of calm assurance and an unshakable will to overcome, qualities which could once again take him to the brink of greatness, or maybe even to its lofty heights.

From the outset it was clear than a high quality game was in the offing. The players, colleagues in the Pairs at the start of the year and now adversaries, went at each other hard and could not be separated at 4-4. The opening points featured a range of both skills and lapses from both, highlights being the accuracy of Xala’s dipping service and a quite stunning dos paredes from Barriola which gave him a brief lead at 2-3. However, from this early parity it was Barriola who forged an onward path, winning six points to Xala’s one to lead 10-4. He opened his run with another dos paredes, which expertly skimmed the frontis and then died on impact with the floor and continued with an unlikely return winner from Xala’s gantxo. Xala, obviously rattled and little helped by an emergency time out, hit wide and low in succession, before a Barriola service winner continued the rot. To go to 4-10, Barriola produced a ball to the wide court’s open spaces which Xala could only stand back and admire.

Barriola seemed unstoppable and Xala out of ideas, but his war councils with botillero Aitor Zubieta began to bear some fruit just when required. The next passage of play was all about the man from Iparralde, who emulated Barriola in seizing six points on the bounce to regain the lead at 12-11. Barriola’s sequence ended when his drop attempt faded and fell low. He regained the serve straight away with a dos paredes error from Xala , but then three errors and some textbook cross court play from his rejuvenated rival negated his admirable defensive efforts. At 11-11 Barriola had a golden chance to win the initiative back with the point at his mercy before his gantxo missed its target, and amazingly, Xala was ahead. The pair traded blows, tied once again at 12 and 13, and it seemed as if this tie may go to the wire.

However, Barriola, never worked up and always in control of his emotions, was in no mood to let his erstwhile colleague take the spoils and he set about calmly and gradually eking out a new advantage. Xala once again let mistakes creep into his game and this aided Barriola, now serving with venom, to a four point lead at 13-17. It was a gap which Xala proved unable to bridge. He pulled two back when Barriola pushed his reply to a dos paredes wide and then fluffed a close range dos paredes of his own, but Barriola kept building. Xala helped to drive the nails into his own coffin with a falta on 15-19, and Barriola wasted no time at all in sealing the deal with a fourth dos paredes winner and an easy txoko. Having kept his emotions behind a veil for the duration of the encounter, Barriola released them with a whoop of joy. His dream of another final is very much alive and while he is not there yet, he can eye the prize. Will 2011 be the year of the defender?

Scoring sequence: 1-0, 1-2, 2-2, 2-4, 3-4, 4-4, 4-10, 5-10, 5-11, 12-11, 12-12, 12-13, 13-13, 13-17, 14-17, 14-19, 15-19, 15-20, 15-22.

Xala: winners (6) errors (7) service winners (3) service errors (1) 4 ½ line errors (1)

Barriola: winners (10) errors (5) service winners (3) service errors (0) 4 ½ line errors (1)

Match time: 55:09 with 10:33 of actual play

Balls hit: 264

Botilleros: Aitor Zubieta with Xala  and Miguel Irigoien with Barriola

Abel Barriola: on course

Abel Barriola: on course

Image from Noticias de Gipuzkoa, by David de Haro

In the Promocion Championship, the semi final played yesterday in Eibar was won by Mendizabal III, who beat Ongay 22-11. The neo-pro was always on top, leading 9-1, 10-2 and 15-4. A late rally from Ongay was nowhere near enough. The impressive debutante will play his second semi final against fellow first rotation victor Lemuno in Antzuola on Friday.

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