Monthly Archives: April 2013

Promocion Pairs Final: triumph for Ezcaray as Gorka and Cecilio are crowned

Saturday 27th April, Logrono


Adarraga was in full scale party mode on Saturday evening for the Promocion final, in which all four players were Riojan. Each pair had its faction in the crowd but the biggest single group of supporters came from Ezcaray, the home town of both Gorka Esteban and Cecilio Valgañón, and they did not leave disappointed as the dominant pair of the championship took the spoils. This is a second Promocion crown in a row for Cecilio, who won last year with Jon Jaunarena. Despite the emotion of the occasion, the match itself was not a vintage one. The contest was riddled with errors, especially from Rico, who never found any rhythm. Cecilio, too, was below his best but provided dogged defence and just enough of a platform for the player of the match, Gorka, to do what was necessary. Seven winners in open play plus four on serve represented an excellent return for the forward in such an error strewn match.

Gorka and Cecilio fought their way through the semi-finals by the skin of their teeth, living very dangerously after losing their penultimate match 21-22, and relying on a 22-21 win in their last for their final place, but they came good again when it mattered. They were easily the class act of the round robin stages, winning nine of their eleven games with one of their losses coming while Gorka was injured and replaced by Aritz Lasa. It is justice that it is they who stand atop the podium. While Cecilio has won this title before, it is a first professional txapela for Gorka who has looked more and more solid this year. It could prove a springboard into greater things. For the moment though, Ezcaray’s finest will revel in their local celebrity and the adulation of the wider pelotazale.

There is a short video with highlights and footage of the presentation here.

Scoring sequence: 3-0, 3-7, 6-7, 6-9, 7-9, 7-10, 10-10, 10-14, 13-14, 13-20, 15-20, 15-22
Service winners/errors: Rico 2/0, Gorka 4/0
Winners/errors: Rico 3/7, Untoria 2/2, Gorka 7/3, Cecilio 2/5
Match time: 64:02
Balls hit: 493

Photo: mine

Presenting the Finalists: Martinez de Irujo and Zabaleta

Juan Martinez de Irujo Goñi is one of the defining pelotaris of his generation and there is little that has not been said about the greart forward. Irujo, now 31, hails from Ibero in Navarre and made his professional debut in Pamplona in 2003. He hit the ground running in dramatic style, becoming Manomanista champion within a year of his debut having already reached the Pairs final in the same year. Titles continued to fall at his feet, culminating in the apotheosis of 2006 when he won all three major championships. Irujo’s career has slowed down of late; he has not won a major title since 2010, partly due to a dip in his own form and partly to the extraordinary flourishing of Aimar Olaizola who has usurped him as the sport’s number one in the past three years. However, Irujo remains Irujo and he has played a blinder for the majority of this year’s Pairs, inspired to reach the heights by his young partner Zabaleta, himself on a golden path to the top. It is not an exaggeration to say that, along with Olaizola, Irujo has changed the style of the modern game. To watch these two greats play each other is to watch a virtual whirlwind. Such pace and relentless attack set the pattern that all others would have to try and follow. Irujo has bad days and can sometimes be the architect of his own demise but when on song he is extremely hard to stop. This task will fall largely to Berasaluze on Sunday. He has done it before but can he do it again on the biggest stage of all?

Pairs record
2004 with Lasa III, finalist
2005 with Goni III, winner
2006 with Eulate, winner
2007 with Goni III, quarter-finals
2009 with Goni III, winner
2010 with Beroiz, semi-finals
2011 with Merino II, semi-finals
2012 with Barriola, group stages

Previous professional titles
Pairs Championship in 2005, 2006 and 2009
Manomanista in 2004, 2006, 2009, 2010
Cuatro y Medio in 2006 and 2010

Jose Javier Zabaleta Lasa, who hails from the tiny Navarrese village of Etxarren, has been the revelation of the championship, though in truth his promise was so obvious that his rise is no big surprise. Zabaleta, who celebrated his 22nd birthday last month, made his professional debut in Eibar at the start of 2011 and impressed immediately. As an amateur he won the Campeonato de Lezo in 2009 and a year later took both the Federacion de Clubes Pairs title and the senior world title and given this pedigree, Aspe threw him into the Promocion Manomanista a few months later, where he lost to Olaetxea in a tight first round encounter. The following year he fell only at the semi-final stage, 21-22 to eventual winner Jaunarena. He missed out on selection for the Pairs with a broken arm in 2012, so the 2013 top tier championship is his first in the discipline at the professional level. He won his place on merit with a succession of outstanding performances against more experienced opposition and repaid the faith of his empresa from the word go. Zabaleta has looked older that his years, consistently inspired and constantly solid throughout the many weeks of the championship. He is quiet, polite and unassuming off the court and unflappable on it, and is clearly totally undaunted by both the massive chance and the great responsibility that comes in playing with Irujo. He is already destined for the bigtime and a win on Sunday would take him there with immediate effect. Whatever happens, 2013 has, so far, been the year of Zabaleta.

Pairs record
2013 is his first appearance

Previous professional titles

Photos: mine

Pelota on ETB, 26th-28th April: Pairs Championship Final

Friday 26th April, Altsasu


Followed by MERINO II v EZKURDIA Manomanista preview

Sunday 28th April, Bilbao


Followed by BERASALUZE II – ALBISU v MARTINEZ DE IRUJO  – ZABALETA Pairs Championship Final

To watch, go to http://www.eitb.tv

This weekend also sees the Promocion Pairs final between RICO IV – UNTORIA and GORKA – CECILIO. This will take place on Saturday in Logrono, with the first match of the evening commencing at 17:30 (CEST).

Presenting the Finalists: Berasaluze II and Albisu

Pablo Berasaluze Zabala was born in 1977 in Berriz, a town of around 5000 inhabitants nestled between Durango and Zaldibar in Bizkaia. He made his professional debut in 1998 at the age of 20, at the Municipal Fronton of Bergara, after a successful amateur career which saw him take the Liga Vasca de Clubes title in 1994 and the Torneo El Diario Vasco pairs title in 1997. Although he has been a regular feature in the top flight of pelota for many years, Berasaluze has yet to win a major championship title. His Pairs Championship record is not a stellar one; he has reached the semi-finals on only two occasions in seven attempts, but the second of these appearances came last year with Albisu, his partner this time round. On that occasion they won only one of their semis in what was essentially a dead rubber against Titin III and Zabaleta (the latter replacing Merino II for the eventual champions). This year they have fought to the death and come through against all the odds, testament to the fighting spirit for which Berasaluze is famous. He plays with commitment and extraordinary verve, his small stature combined with his determination reminding one of a terrier at work. A terrific player who has bloomed late in his career, Berasaluze surely deserves at least one major championship txapela to show for his efforts and in the year when he changed his playing name from Berasaluze VIII to Berasaluze II in honour of his late father, a win on Sunday would be a fitting tribute.

Pairs record
2003 with Beloki, group stages
2004 with Zearra, group stages
2005 with Patxi Ruiz, group stages
2009 with Zearra, semi-finals
2010 with Begino, group stages
2011 with Apraiz, group stages
2012 with Albisu, semi-finals

Previous professional titles

Jon Ander Albisu is, at the age of 22, a pelotari just coming into his own. Regarded since the start of his career as a huge talent who could not find consistency, this tournament has represented a watershed; his playing has at times been erratic but at times inspired and coupled with the dynamism of Berasaluze his determination has seen him through. Albisu was born in Ataun, in the Goierri region of Gipuzkoa. He has an impressive amateur palmares which includes the Torneo del Antiguo pairs title in 2008, the championship of Euskadi individual titles in 2009 and 2010 and the GRAVN individual crown in 2010. These showings were enough to merit a contract with Asegarce, with whom he made his debut in July 2010 in Tolosa. A year later he took his only professional title to date, winning the Promocion Pairs Championship with Olaetxea, beating Gorka and Merino I in the final. In 2012 he was promoted to the top tier tournament, making the semi-finals with current partner Berasaluze. Whatever happens on Sunday, the 2013 Pairs final will be a defining moment in Albisu’s career, the moment he moved from promising young player to genuine title contender. He has shown a great deal of grit in this championship, absorbing much criticism in the press to come good when it matters. He will be scrutinised more than anyone else, for Asegarce’s victory bid rests on which Albisu takes to the fronton, the confident new star or the inconsistent youngster.

Pairs record
2012 with Berasaluze II, semi-finals

Previous professional titles
2011 Promocion Pairs Championship, with Olaetxea

Photos: mine

Riojan rampage: Promocion Pairs and Manomanista previews

There was double joy for La Rioja this weekend. On Saturday, Gorka and Cecilio defeated Apezetxea and Larrinaga 22-11 to claim the remaining spot in the Promocion Pairs final. This is justice for the couple who dominated the round robin stages but who have squeezed through the semi finals by the skin of their teeth. They lost their first semi 21-22 to Rico IV and Untoria, leaving them in need of a win in week two. Win they did, but only by one point. A loss here would have seen them out, but the win meant they were afforded the chance to play off against Apezetxea and Larrinaga for the final. Thankfully for them, Saturday’s game proved rather less stressful and they took it at a canter. The final will therefore feature two Riojan pairs; Gorka and Cecilio will take on Rico IV and Untoria on Saturday in Logrono for the txapela.

Elsewhere, fellow Riojan David Merino won his Manomanista preview against Aitor Zubieta. It was an attritional game in Eibar and could have gone either way. Merino led for the majority of the encounter only for Zubieta to put in a late surge and lead 19-17. However, his charge ran out of steam and Merino held his nerve to take five straight points. His win means his hopes of making the Manomanista tournament proper are kept alive but he will need to get past Ezkurdia, who beat Aritz Lasa last week, to progress any further.

Untoria and Gorka face each other on Saturday at Adarraga

Untoria and Gorka face each other on Saturday at Adarraga

Photo: mine

This weekend’s pelota, and a round-up

Once again, sorry for the silence over the past two weeks. In my absence, the Pairs Championship finalists have been decided: the final will be held on Sunday 28th April in Bilbao and will be between Martinez de Irujo  – Zabaleta and Berasaluze II – Albisu. The former pairing’s presence in the last two represents no surprise whatsoever, but Berasaluze and Albisu’s late charge for the prize has been unexpected. They lost their first semi final match to Beongoetxea and Beroiz but thereafter beat Olaizola II and Ibai Zabala 22-14. Then they defeated their opponents in the final by the same margin to seal their place. This result must fill them with confidence, but will lightning strike twice for the outsiders? Irujo and Zabaleta won their other two semis, beating Olaizola and Zabala 22-8 and Bengoetxea and Beroiz 22-13. In the dead rubber last weekend, Olaizola and Zabala signed off with a win, beating Bengoetxea and Beroiz 22-15. All the results from the competition up until this point are here and the semi final table is here.

In the Promocion championship, Rico IV and Untoria have sealed their place in the final despite a narrow loss to Tainta and Ladis Galarza last week. Gorka-Cecilio and Apezetxea-Larrinaga will play off for the other place in a sudden death encounter in Pamplona on Saturday. All the results are here with the current table here.

The first of two Aspe previews for the Manomanista Championship took place last week. Ezkurdia came through to beat Aritz Lasa 22-20, thereby sealing his place in the draw proper. In the the second preview which takes place tonight in Vitoria-Gasteiz, Zubieta takes on Merino II. Asegarce will hold a preview tomorrow between Arretxe II and Olaetxea, as well as a game between Elezkano II and Larunbe for entry into the Promocion manomanista.

Matches on ETB this weekend are:

Friday 19th April, Vitoria-Gasteiz


Followed by ZUBIETA v MERINO II Manomanista Preview

Sunday 21st April, Eibar



To watch, go to http://www.eitb.tv

Pelota on ETB this weekend

There is no pelota on this Friday evening, but Sunday should in part make up for this as the two top pairs in the championship play each other at Bizkaia. Whoever wins this will have one foot in the final.

Sunday 7th April, Bilbao



To watch, go to http://www.eitb.tv

The other Pairs Semi in this rotation is on Saturday at Labrit, where Olaizola II-Ibai Zabala play Berasaluze II-Albisu in what is a crunch match for both. In the Promocion tournament, Apezetxea-Larrinaga face Rico IV-Untoria in Beasain on Friday while Gorka-Cecilio play Tainta-Ladis Galarza on Sunday after the main championship semi at Bizkaia.

Win for Bengoetxea-Beroiz as Berasaluze cannot save Albisu’s blushes

Monday 1st April, Eibar


Pairs Championship Semi Final

Easter Monday saw a good crowd at Astelena for the second of the holiday weekend’s semi-finals. Here, Bengoetxea and Beroiz were the clear favourites and the form book was in no way upset, despite the never-say-die fight of Berasaluze. The favourites won the match essentially because of their balance as a pair. Bengoetxea and Beroiz, from the start of the tournament, have worked as an equal partnership, Beroiz hitting long and powerfully to set up a solid attacking platform for a partner who has seldom failed to use it. In contrast, at least here, their opponents were a one man show. Berasaluze played like a man possessed on Monday, which is more than can be said for Albisu, who leaked error after error, mishit after mishit. Eleven of the seventeen points the losing pair achieved were thanks to winners from Berasaluze but there is a limit to what anyone can do to bail out a partner with this lack of form.

The game started with nervous errors from both pairs, but it was Bengoetxea and Beroiz who settled first and eked out a gradual lead, moving from 2-6 to 4-8 and 5-9. Their opponents closed the gap to 8-9 but all hopes of a close game seemed dashed thereafter when seven straight points took the lead to 8-16. However, to the credit of Berasaluze, he was not prepared to give the cause up so easily and dragged himself and Albisu back to 14-16 and then 17-18. However, Albisu’s woes continued. He hit short all too often, looking at his hands with disgust as if hoping to find some answer in them. Many of the balls which landed inside the frontis were barely inside. Bengoetxea and Beroiz exploited the weakness he showed and were merciless in targeting him as Berasaluze stood resigned. They closed the game out with four straight points, the final one of which came due to an error from Albisu, just as if to make the point even starker.

With the first two semi-finals out of the way, it would be hard to bet against Irujo-Zabaleta and Bengoetxea-Beroiz facing each other in the final. Both did an excellent job this weekend, looked solid and unruffled and crucially, both worked wonderfully as a team. Both of the losing pairs are unbalanced, with the forwards propping up an often ailing defender. However, there are two weeks left before we know the line-up for the finale; one upset and things could yet be very different.

Scoring sequence: 1-0, 1-3, 2-3, 2-6, 3-6, 3-7, 4-7, 4-8, 5-8, 5-9, 8-9, 8-16, 14-16, 14-17, 15-17, 15-18, 17-18 , 17-22
Service winners/errors: Berasaluze 0/0, Bengoetxea 2/1
Winners/errors: Berasaluze 11/3, Albisu 1/11, Bengoetxea 5/3, Beroiz 1/1
Match time: 68:13 with 25:33 of actual play
Balls hit: 501

In the Promocion Championship semi-finals, Gorka and Cecilio suffered the agony of a 21-22 defeat in their home town of Ezkaray by Rico IV and Untoria. Meanwhile, Apezetxea and Larrinaga won 22-7 over Tainta and Ladis Galarza at Ogueta.

Irujo-Zabaleta underline their favouritism in first semi romp

Saturday 31st March, Vitoria-Gasteiz


Pairs Championship Semi Final

Favourites Juan Martinez de Irujo and Jose Javier Zabaleta took first blood in the semi-finals with a resounding win over Aimar Olaizola and Ibai Zabala at Ogueta on Saturday. The Asegarce pair went ahead, briefly, but got no further than 4-2. Irujo and Zabaleta pulled level at 4-4 and from here on in it was for the most part one way traffic. The eventual victors knew that to ensure success they had to nullify the threat of Olaizola, and they did this with great skill. Most of the other pairs in the championship have failed in this task, allowing the sport’s current number one far too much space to dictate, but Irujo and Zabaleta sent the ball sailing over Olazioa’s head as often as they were able, placing mounting pressure on Ibai Zabala. Zabala is relatively new to the game at this level and has surprised many in the standard of his play thus far, but he found the favourites too hot to handle and crumbled under their pressure, committing a catalogue of errors. He repeatedly hit short of the ideal as Zabaleta pushed him back, mercilessly. This gave Irujo plenteous room to swing. The trailing pair shadowed their opponents reasonably closely for a time, holding them at 6-8 and 7-9, but from this point on there was no comeback as the blues shot to 7-17. It was a great shame for the public of Vitoria-Gasteiz that the hoped for Irujo-Olaizola duel failed to materialise, but the aficionados must surely have appreciated a tactical master display by probably the strongest pair in the competition. Such an easy win puts them in an excellent position as far as qualification for the final is concerned, while Olaizola and Zabala will have to both win and address their gaping points deficit.

Scoring sequence: 1-0, 2-0, 2-1, 3-1, 3-2, 4-2, 4-3, 4-4, 4-5, 4-6, 4-7, 5-7, 5 – 8, 6-8, 6-9, 7-9, 7-10, 7-11, 7-12, 7-13, 7-14, 7-15, 7-16, 7-17, 8-17, 8-18, 8-19, 8-20, 8-21, 8-22.
Service winners/errors: Irujo 7/0, Olaizola 0/0
Winners/errors: Irujo 13/1, Olaizola 4/2, Zabaleta 2/2, Zabala 1/5
Match time: 55:10
Balls hit: 388

Irujo: unstoppable

Irujo: unstoppable

Photo: mine

Mikel Idoate signs with Asegarce

Asegarce yesterday announced the signing of Mikel Idoate from Aspe for two years. He follows in the footsteps of Mikel Beroiz and Ladis Galarza who have both left Aspe for the Bilbao company in recent times. The move is likely fuelled the abundance of talent in the forwards department at Aspe, counterbalanced by the relative lack of it at Asegarce. Idoate has fallen into the gap between top tier pairs selection and the promocion tournaments, and is increasingly losing out to new talents like Ezkurdia and Jaunarena who are being pushed into the limelight. He is too good to be allowed to fall by the wayside. This move should revitalise the career of the 23 year old from Txantrea and afford him plentiful opportunities in the top flight. Asegarce have struggled for two or three years for a fourth elite forward to sit alongside Aimar Olaizoola, Bengoetxea VI and Berasaluze II. Asier Olaizola has been on the wane for a while and Iker Arretxe has failed to rise to the task on too many occasions. Idoate gives them new young blood and a talent bursting to show itself. He will play his first match for his new empresa on Saturday in Pamplona, where he is paired with Apraiz against Urrutikoetxea and Begino.