There was high octane play in the Riojan capital of Logrono on Sunday evening as table toppers Martinez de Irujo and Zabaleta came from behind to beat Titin III and Merino II 22-20 in a match that lasted almost an hour and a half. The momentum of the game changed on a sixpence many times over. The defending champions, playing front of a passionate home crowd, started the better, going 3-0 ahead. Even when they were pegged back and overtaken, they found the strength to forge on again, taking their lead to 10-6, 12-7 and 13-8. Irujo and Zabaleta fought back however, drawing level at fourteen and then sixteen apiece. Titin and Merino looked to have rediscovered their command of the situation when they took a 19-16 and 20-18 lead, but again they were undone with the increasingly powerful Irujo and Zabaleta coming through at the death to take four consecutive points, and with them the win. While there was much scintillating play to thrill the Adarraga crowd, there were also many mistakes, but these did not detract from the drama of the game. Especially engrossing was the tooth and nail fight at the back of the fronton between the two young defenders, who gave yet another demonstration of the youthful talent which fills Aspe’s roster.
Aimar Olaizola and Ibai Zabala moved up to second in the table on Saturday with a hard fought 22-19 victory over former top pair Bengoetxea VI and Beroiz. Labrit was full for this much anticipated encounter, as locals came in their droves to see whether the combined solidity of Bengoetxea and Beroiz would be enough to dampen the spark of Olaizola. Though the pair in blue pushed them all the way however, Goizueta’s most famous son proved once more that despite an inexperienced partner in tow, any pair with him at the helm will be very hard to stop. The game was very even from the start with the spoils shared at 3-3, but Olaizola and Zabala soon moved into a 6-3 lead. Beroiz failed to place enough pressure on Olaizola and fed him too many easy balls with which he was all too willing to mete out punishment; 6-3 became 8-3. Bengoetxea staged a fight back however, and with Beroiz in increasingly solid support seized the lead back at 9-10, and then 9-12, with some dominant shot play. It cost the red pair much effort to fight back but they scrapped their way to the lead again at 14-13. Deadlock ensued as the pairs could not be separated, tied at 17, 18 and 19. From this juncture thought, Olaizola stepped up a gear, and wasted little time in hitting his way to victory, 22-19 the final score. Bengoetxea and Beroiz, who looked invincible a few weeks back, are now on something of a losing run. Olaizola and Ibai Zabala, on the other hand, may now dare to dream of the semi-finals. There is a short highlights video on etb, here.
Meanwhile, in the Promocion Championship, Gorka and Cecilio became the only unbeaten pair in the competition, beating Apezetxea and Larrinaga 22-16 in Logrono. They now sit atop the table alone. At Labrit, Mendizabal III and Merino put Aritz Lasa (playing for Olazabal) and Arruti to the sword, winning 22-6.
Irujo and Zabaleta are in a position of strength