Sunday 23rd September, Logrono
TITIN III – MERINO II beat BERASALUZE VIII – ALBISU 22-19
San Mateo Final
Any team which lines up at Adarraga for the final of San Mateo against a pair containing Augusto Ibanez knows they will be up against it. Titin III is the undisputed hero of the pelota lovers of Logrono and claims near ownership of the fronton, over which his painted image looms with authority. Add into the mix the new darling of the sport in Rioja, David Merino, and you have an atmosphere fit to lift the roof. Facing the reigning pairs champions in any context is a stern challenge, but in one such as this the stakes are very definitely raised. Into this cauldron walked Pablo Berasaluze and Jon Ander Albisu, with the aim of upsetting a very considerable apple cart. The Asegarce partnership came into the final in sterling form, having defeated Olaizola II and Apraiz, and then Xala and Barriola on the way, but despite coming to the brink of triumph, the Riojan juggernaut proved one step too far.
The match was a tale of tension and attrition, marked more by errors than scintillating shot play. This theme was set from the start when Merino handed the opening point to the visitors with a high strike. Berasaluze then ceded the early initiative with an entirely unnecessary service error. However, the terrier like forward, again showing an iron determination, wrenched it back with a txoko winner, before his pair strode on to a 4-1 lead thanks to another error from Merino and an excellent rebote from Albisu. Although the Riojans steadied the ship initially, Berasaluze and Albisu maintained the upper hand in the early stages, taking an 8-3 lead thanks to some dynamic close play from the former and a lack of radar on the part of Merino, who desperately tried to exert pressure on his opposite number.
Merino finally cracked Albisu on 4-8 to put his pair within three and despite an error from Titin in the next play, Albisu handed them a reprieve by hitting low himself. The point on 6-9 was perhaps a turning point in the momentum of the match. Every single player found themselves in a hole at some point in the rally and to the delight of the crowd managed to salvage it. Attack followed attack before Titin grabbed the point with a stunning close range gantxo which seemed to pierce Berasaluze’s soul. Merino erred in the next point but there was a notable shift of mood in Adarraga and it took the Asegarce pair a full eight points to trouble the scorers again. As if to underline the new state of play, Merino demolished Albisu for 8-10, forcing him to hit wide from a steepling high ball. Rattled, both he and Berasaluze made errors in turn and from a position of clear weakness the Riojans now had an 11-10 lead. They did not let up as two winners from Titin were followed by a masterful flat ball to the corner from Merino which well and truly bamboozled Albisu.
Despite this clear shift in the ebb and flow of the match however, Berasaluze and Albisu refused to cave. Proving that he was not intimidated by the brilliance of Merino, Albisu nailed him back to reduce the deficit to 11-14. They maintained the gap at three at 13-16 but infuriatingly for their fans, failed to make the pressure pay with an error apiece. At 18-13, Titin and Merino had breathing space. Again though, they came back, defying the partisan local crowd to push their heroes to the utmost limits. It was Albisu who inspired the final revival, adding three superb points to their tally, the best of which was an extraordinary skimming txoko from deep, which took everyone by surprise. A gantxo from Berasaluze, now goading his partner on, and and error a piece from Titin and Merino produced a tie at 19-19. The match was impossible to call; would the momentum stay with the Asegarce pair who had showed such determination to storm back, or would the home crowd lift Titin and Merino, so desperate to win the tournament which seemed theirs by the force of local will? As it happened, the ending was tame and disappointing. The comeback ended abruptly and Berasaluze and Albisu reverted to error making to hand San Mateo to the jubilant favourites, the toasts of the city of Logrono.
Scoring sequence: 0-1, 1-1, 1-4, 3-4, 3-8, 5-8, 5-9, 7-9, 7-10, 14-10, 14-11, 16-11, 16-13, 18-13, 18-18, 19-18, 19-19, 22-19
Winners/errors: Titin 6/2, Berasaluze 4/6, Merino 3/9, Albisu 4/7
Balls hit: 540
Match time: 1:16.55 with 26:43 of actual play
David Merino made errors but performed when it mattered
Photo from Aspepelota under Creative Commons