Friday 24th February, Irun
TITIN III – MERINO II beat BENGOETXEA VI – APRAIZ 22-11
This Championship has been billed from the start as a two horse race between Olaizola II-Beroiz and Martinez de Irujo-Barriola. However, thanks in part to the indifference of the latter pairing in the past few weeks, coupled with Irujo’s illness, a new contender is emerging. The Riojan combination of experience and youth had won five of its nine matches prior to Friday and sat in the midst of those seeking a way to squeeze into the last two semi-final berths. However, Titin and Merino’s efforts in Irun have lifted them into second place, ahead of dead certs Irujo and Barriola. That they find themselves in this elevated state is thanks to the sheer doggedness of Titin and the emerging class of David Merino, a towering beacon of future promise.
Titin and Merino had almost everything their way in this match. Titin took control right from the start with five clean winners in the first seven points. The other two points in this early passage came as a result of errors from Apraiz, who was put under searing pressure from the great veteran. Merino was the perfect foil, clean elegant and devastatingly accurate from any distance. Titin was out foxed by a short ball from Apraiz in the tenth point and fell short down the wall, but the Asegarce pair failed to produce a clean winner until the defender got one over Merino’s head at 1-12. After this confidence boost, a sign that scoring points was in fact possible, Bengoetxea picked up two in a row with a txoko and a cross court swipe while almost flat against the front wall. However, such moments of inspiration from the usually effervescent forward were few and far between. He chipped away at the Aspe lead in ones and twos, but only appeared to have discovered his true style when it was far too late, at least taking his pair into double figures with a run of three clean winners before the Riojans closed the deal. The winning point came from the hand of Merino, who demonstrating his will to be adventurous as well as merely solid, pulled off a txoko from an impressive distance.
Bengoetxea did not play badly, indeed he made only one error, but Titin was in magisterial form and struck twice as many winners as his opposite number, who could do little to break his control. Apraiz, although he began with little promise, found his range as the game progressed, but proved unable to disrupt Merino’s serenity. This loss has done little to help their cause, though they still have their chances. For Team Rioja however, it seems the only way is up. They will have home advantage against Olaizola and Beroiz this weekend and may fancy themselves to get close, although the table toppers are an entirely different proposition.
Scoring sequence: 9-0, 9-1, 12-1, 12-4, 13-4, 13-5, 14-5, 14-6, 16-6, 16-8, 17-8, 20-8, 20-11, 22-11.
Winners/errors: Titin III 14/1, Bengoetxea VI 7/1, Merino II 3/1, Apraiz 2/4
Match time: 54:00 with 20:14 of actual play
Balls hit: 439