The Cuatro y Medio Championships, both the main competition and its Promocion counterpart, and nearing their endgame. As the semi-finals approach, we take a look at what happened this week. Who is through, who is out and who must play for their survival?
There were two thrillingly close games in the main championship last week. The first of these took place in Leitza on Friday, where BENGOETXEA VI beat XALA 22-20. The Navarrese town of Leitza, which sits a short distance over the border from Gipuzkoa, is something of a pelota hotbed. Bengoetxea is one of three current professionals who hail from there (the others being Barriola and Jaunarena). Home support can act in one of two ways, either putting further pressure on a player or pushing him to greater heights, and fortunately for Bengoetxea, the latter scenario played out. It was, however, desperately close; neither player managed a lead of more than three. In the middle portion of the game, Xala briefly threatened to put Bengoetxea on the rack with a quick fire run of four points, consisting of two errors from his opponent and two crunching hooks of his own. However, just as at every point where one or other pelotari found themselves with a lead, it was cancelled out. The game was not a vintage one from the point of view of consistently staggering shot play, although both proved why they are top tier professionals on various occasions, but for sheer tension it would have been hard to beat. The home favourite looked like he had finally broken from the shackles in the closing stages, going ahead 20-17 with the line in sight, but Xala fought back to 20-21 before a commanding txoko sealed the day. Bengoetxea now has one win and one loss in the quarter final league, so his fate depends on what happens this weekend. Xala, with two defeats, is out.
In Pamplona on Saturday, affairs were even tighter when BERASALUZE VIII pulled a 22-21 triumph against MARTINEZ DE IRUJO out of the fire. Whatever Berasaluze’s multitudinous merits, this result ranks as an upset, especially given the circumstances of the play which unfolded. Irujo went ahead 10-1 and 14-4 and to fall this far behind to a player of his quality should be terminal. However, Berasaluze, proving once more that in tenacity he is second to nobody in the world of pelota, came roaring back with a display littered with stinging hooks and audacious volleys. Irujo appeared utterly powerless as his Bizkaian rival took an unlikely 18-14 lead. There was a further twist when Irujo looked to have restored order, seizing the lead back at 19-18, but having come so far, there was no way Berasaluze would let the victory slip away. The players tied on 19, 20 and 21 but it was the underdog who dealt the final blow, winning by the smallest possible margin before the crowd rose in a standing ovation richly deserved by both. This result means Berasaluze is assured of a place in semi-finals, having defeated Barriola last weekend. Irujo, with a narrow victory and a narrow loss to his name, must beat Barriola on Sunday to go through.
Things were rather easier for the defending champion OLAIZOLA II, who was pushed hard in the early stages but in the end registered a comfortable 22-13 win over ARRETXE II. Iker Arretxe has been something of a revelation in these championships, reaching the quarters by beating Titin and then backing this up with an easy win over Xala. Keeping pace with Olaizola at the mid-point of this game alone would have represented an improvement on his Pairs Championship form of earlier this year, but Aimar found a fifth gear when pressed and eased into the semi-finals with his second win, having beaten Bengoetxea by the same margin last week. Arretxe and Bengoetxea will play off this weekend for the second semi berth from Group A.
Back in Group B, BARRIOLA fought off RETEGI BI, winning 22-15 in Bilbao. The match was extremely tight in the early stages, with the protagonists locked together at 11-11. However, from this juncture it was the defender, unusually in Cuatro y Medio, who imposed himself. Barriola took seven points in a row to lead 18-11 and although Retegi closed to 18-14 he found the route back barred to him. Barriola therefore lives to fight another day, though he must defeat Irujo this weekend, while Retegi is out whatever the result of his game with Berasaluze VIII.
This weekend’s fixtures are:
Friday 9th November, Beasain: Berasaluze VIII v Retegi Bi
Saturday 10th November, Pamplona: Bengoetxea VI v Arretxe II
Sunday 11th November, Eibar: Barriola v Martinez de Irujo
Monday 12th November, Tolosa: Olaizola II v Xala
In the Promocion Championship, the semi-finalists are all set. From Group 1, Elezkano and Rico IV go through. Elezkano won his place thanks to an impressive 22-8 win over a far more experienced opponent in Jon Apezetxea. His only defeat in the tournament has been a narrow loss to Olazabal, and making it to this stage is quite a coup for the teenager who has only been a professional since September. Rico IV beat an off-colour Olazabal 22-12 to book his berth. In Group 2 everything came down to the final weekend but it was Jaunarena and Untoria who received their tickets to the last four. Gorka needed a win over Lemuno to progress but he fell three points short, losing 22-19. Jaunarena, playing in his home town of Leitza as a curtain raiser to fellow local Bengoetxea, did what he needed to do in defeating Untoria, but needed to wait until the other match was completed before absolute confirmation of his progression. Untoria goes through despite his loss, thanks to Gorka’s defeat. Both the semi finals take place next weekend. Rico IV plays Untoria in Najera on Friday 16th while the details of Jaunarena v Elezkano are yet to be confirmed.