Tag Archives: Aritz Lasa

Martinez de Irujo and Zabaleta consolidate while Olaizola and Ibai Zabala climb the tree

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

Irujo and Zabaleta are in a position of strength

Photo: mine

Idoate’s Epic Journey to Round One

Mikel Idoate defeats Merino II (22-15) and Aritz Lasa (22-17) for a place in the Cuatro y Medio

It has been an epic weekend for Mikel Idoate. The young Aspe forward was not granted automatic entry into the Cuatro y Medio tournament, instead tasked with finding his way through two qualifying rounds to take his place in the line-up. In the 48 hours between Friday and Sunday he won both matches in a round trip which totalled more than 500 kilometres. The first port of call for Idoate, who is from Pamplona, was Santo Domingo de la Calzada, a town of 7000 inhabitants in the western part of La Rioja. His opponent here was David Merino, himself Riojan and therefore the recipient of almost all the support. The partisan nature of the support mattered little to Idoate however, as he wasted no time in rushing headlong to an 8-0 lead, Merino unable to get going despite several lengthy rallies in which he appeared to settle nicely. Merino slowly added points to the scoreboard, moving to 8-2, 9-5 and 15-7, but Idoate dominated until the mid point of the game, when something clicked in the mind and body of the local favourite. He closed to 15-13 with great tenacity and looked to be back in it. However, Idoate kept cool and an injury break, the result of a knock to a finger, appeared to unsettle Merino whose confidence never truly returned. He added only two more points as Idoate took it 22-15 with impressive command. Much later that night he declared his satisfaction on Twitter but looked ahead immediately; dinner and sleep, rest and then on Sunday, repeat.

Less than 48 hours later, another 130km drive to a more familiar venue, the town of Eibar, nestling in its deep ‘hole’ just off the motorway between Bilbao and San Sebastian. The historic fronton of Astelena has just reopened with a flourish after a temporary closure, and Aspe are encouraging custom with a new scheme, offering parking and nourishment as part of the pelota package. Idoate’s second opponent, the one man standing between him and the main draw, was Aritz Lasa, a talent if inconsistent performer who has a recent history of falling in the second round of the Cuatro y Medio. Idoate showed little sign of fatigue, racing into an early lead just as he had on Friday. Finding himself 0-4 down, Lasa found the strength to rally and looked the better player. However, gradually the errors of Lasa allowed Idoate a route back, and he took nine consecutive points to lead 16-12. Having come so far in the past two days, there was no way his determination would allow a lapse. Lasa threatened again, closing to 17-19, but thereafter took too many risks, allowing Idoate home for a breathless double header of wins.

Some questioned the need for a recent two time Manomanista semi-finalist to have to suffer the indignity of two preview rounds for the Cuatro y Medio, but it is, one feels a reflection of the embarrassment of riches at Aspe. The Eibar empresa has a legion of talented young players fighting for starting spots in championships, and the problem will only grow when the likes of Jon Jaunarena hit the big time. However, for now, Idoate is where he belongs, in the realm of the best having proved his right to be there. He plays Asier Olaizola in the first round proper on Friday, in a match where one would have to declare him favourite. He will certainly approach the encounter with the same tenacity with which he attacked the weekend and make the most of the chance which is finally his. As the man himself declared on Twitter, well after 1am on Monday morning, safely home: “very happy but tired. Time to relax, there will be time to work.”

Image: mine

Also on Sunday, Jon Jaunarena won a play off for a place in the Promocion Cuatro y Medio against Alberto Ongay. Jaunarena, arguably Aspe’s brightest young talent, was the favourite here but fell behind 7-16 t0 an excellent Ongay who played as if his life depended on it. However, in a game of great passion, Jaunarena came back to win 22-19.

Manomanista: Asier Olaizola makes short work of Aritz Lasa

Friday 11th May, Santo Domingo de la Calzada


Not much has been seen of Asier Olaizola recently, missing as he did the Pairs Championship, so it was anybody’s guess as to what he would bring to the table here. Aritz Lasa was more of a known quantity; although his Pairs campaign was less that brilliant, he looked utterly in control in beating a rusty Aitor Zubieta last week and on that performance he was surely the favourite on Friday. However, Lasa is nothing if not inconsistent and he endured a torrid evening against Olaizola, who proved that he can be a player in this tournament.

Lasa took the first point with a service winner but sadly for the man from Urretxu, this was to prove the high point of his match as he never led again. He played with great confidence to draw level with Olaizola at 2-2, bombing his opponent with high balls until he fell short, but thereafter it was a different story. Olaizola took the score from 2-2 to 8-3 in the blink of an eye, dominating both with the serve and in the more attritional rallies. He proved adept at creating space into which to hit clear winners, using the dos paredes twice to great effect. Lasa threatened a revival, coming to within two points at 6-8, thanks to a winner into space out wide and a beautifully placed cross court ball, but Olaizola replied with five straight points, consistently ruling the front of the playing area and sending his opponent back into desperate defence. Lasa managed three more points, two of those thanks to momentary lapses from Olaizola, but it was otherwise one way traffic for the remainder of the match as 14-9 became 22-9. Olaizola used his serve extremely effectively and almost never let Lasa into a tactical position of strength. When Lasa did have a chance at a winner, and a golden opportunity to build some momentum of his own, he blew the easy txoko winner. This was the final nail in the coffin as Olaizola marched on apace. A high strike from Lasa on 9-21 sealed his annihilation.

Asier Olaizola now joins his more illustrious younger brother in the quarter finals, where he will play Mikel Idoate on Sunday. On the strength of this display, he has a significant chance but Idoate will come at him full of determination with a place in the last four for the taking.

Scoring sequence: 0-1, 1-1, 2-1, 2-2, 5-2, 5-3, 8-3, 8-6, 13-6, 13-8, 14-8, 14-9, 22-9.

Winners/errors: Olaizola 12/4 with 3 service winners, Lasa 5/10 with no service winners

Olaizola II and Beroiz take an historic clean sweep

Friday 23rd March, Urretxu


Before the 2012 Pairs Championship began, any commentator you care to mention had Aimar Olaizola and Mikel Beroiz down as the favourites alongside Juan Martinez de Irujo and Abel Barriola. While Irujo and Barriola have faltered as the tournament has progressed, losing half their matches, Olaizola and Beroiz have been staggering. Right from their opening win in Sestao over Berasaluze VIII and Albisu, they have looked unbeatable, and so they have since proved in winning an unprecedented fourteen from fourteen on their way to the semi finals. The next best pair, Titin III and Merino II has won only eight from fourteen. Many of their matches have been extremely one sided; they have never been pushed closer than 22-18 and finished with a points difference of +131. The next most efficient team was Berasaluze VIII-Albisu on +36. Every time they were threatened, they summoned from somewhere an extra gear which nobody else could match. Cold, clinical, spectacular.

Olaizola and Beroiz’s domination

Week Location Opponents Score
1 Sestao Berasaluze VIII-Albisu 22-10
2 Tolosa Arretxe II-Begino 22-5
3 Bilbao Titin III-Merino II 22-15
4 Pamplona Bengoetxea VI-Apraiz 22-9
5 Bilbao Martinez de Irujo-Barriola 22-15
6 Hendaye Xala-Laskurain 22-17
7 Pamplona Aritz Lasa-Pascual* 14-9*
8 Barcelona Berasaluze VIII-Albisu 22-10
9 Tolosa Arretxe II-Begino 22-11
10 Bilbao Gonzalez*-Barriola 22-18
11 Logrono Titin III-Merino II 22-16
12 Pamplona Bengoetxea VI-Apraiz 22-12
13 Vitoria-Gasteiz Xala-Laskurain 22-13
14 Urretxu Aritz Lasa-Penagarikano* 22-17

Key to their success so far has been the unbreakable purple patch of Aimar Olaizola. The great forward has lost only two matches from his last thirty and has obliterated the best in the game time and time again with his brutal strength and tactical mastery. When the ball goes to his left hand and he has room to play with out wide, the best his rivals can do is to pray that he misses, and he misses very seldom indeed. Allied to Olaizola’s wealth of experience and big match mentality has been Beroiz, the anchor from Huarte. It is easy to forget that the defender is only 22 years old, so impressive is his command at the back of the fronton. His accuracy and relentlessness wear his opponents down, his long range hitting is superb and his head is as balanced as they come.

For this, their last game in the round robin phase, Beroiz was replaced by Oier Mendizabal, with whom Aimar won the Pairs title in 2008. Even with Mendizabal, whose form of late has been anything but notable, Aimar’s pair went into this as the overwhelming favourites. This championship has been a torrid one for the pair of Aritz Lasa. Many were surprised at the inclusion of Lasa in the competition at the very start and some, such as Gonzalez, who felt he had been slighted, were downright angry. The likeable forward, here playing in his home town of Urretxu, has had spells of form surrounded by longer periods of indifference and his cause has not been helped by the ongoing injury problems of original partner Aitor Zubieta. Zubieta, champion with Xala in 2010, only played seven of the fourteen games due to hand pain, and clearly struggled when he did take to the fronton. Lasa at various times had to play with Pascual and Penagarikano and thus the partnership was never a settled one. Despite their underdog status on Friday, Lasa and Penagarikano took the fight to the table toppers and pushed them harder than anyone could have envisaged. The closeness of the score was due in part to the rather careless early play of Olaizola, who appeared to think extending himself would be unnecessary. Mixed with the brilliance we have come to expect were a handful of errors which could have been avoided with a little more attention. Mendizabal is not currently in the league of Beroiz and as he faltered on one too many occasions, Olaizola raised his game, ending with fourteen winners to five errors. Lasa’s figures of seven to eight reflect the frustrations of a player who despite his best efforts was cramped by his forward rival and was pushed into uncomfortable positions time and again. Penagarikano had the best of the defensive battle, but Mendizabal’s inconsistency was obviated by Olaizola.

Fourteen from fourteen in the qualifying stages is a record of which Olaiziola and Beroiz can and should be extremely proud. However, they cannot afford to be complacent for a moment. Any one of the other three combinations who have made the semi finals is capable of beating anyone on their day and they must therefore continue to take due care to maintain both their level and their focus. Looking back over the past three months however, it is exceedingly hard to see how anyone can get past them, so devastating is their finishing power. Their rivals for the crown have little time to ponder tactics; Berasaluze and Albisu are first into the fray, taking on the invincibles this Saturday at Bizakaia.

The Penultimate Week of Pairs Qualifying: Four in the Hunt for Two Places

The only pair certain of qualification before this past weekend was that of OLAIZOLA II – BEROIZ, but not content with taking their foot off the throttle and coasting through the final two weeks, they dished out another hammering, this time to XALA – LASKURAIN, whom they beat 22-13 in Vitoria-Gasteiz. In doing so, the dealt them a blow as the vanquished pair slip out of the qualification places into sixth, one point in arrears of Olaizola and Beroiz’s empresa colleagues Berasaluze and Albisu. The one negative for the top pair is that Beroiz sits out this coming weekend through injury. He will be replaced by Mendizabal II with whom Olaizola won the tournament in 2008. They play the ailing Lasa and Zubieta on Friday, or whoever may play in their place. Xala and Laskurain face Bengoetxea and Apraiz in their fight for survival.

MARTINEZ DE IRUJO – BARRIOLA look as though they made be overcoming their recent wobbles; a 22-15 win over BENGOETXEA VI – APRAIZ in Urduliz puts them third, level on points with Berasaluze and Albisu behind them. Irujo and Barriola were forced to come from behind against a partnership who realised it was very likely do or die. Bengoetxea dominated in the early stages but his hold disintegrated from 12-6 and Irujo upped the ante and Apraiz began to feel Barriola’s heat. Though they closed gamely to 13-14, the Aspe pair proved to be in possession of an extra gear and their pressure drove their opponents to a raft of costly errors. The defeated pair face an uphill challenge to qualify, but depending on other results, a win over Xala and Laskurain could still be enough.

In the dead rubber in Tolosa, ARRETXE II – BEGINO salvaged some pride from their sorry campaign by beating GONZALEZ* – PASCUAL* 22-8. Gonzalez and Pascual were playing in place of Aritz Lasa and Zubieta who are both injured, and for the second week running were forced to watch their proxies making a mess of things in their name. Gonzalez will have done little here to support his contention that he should have been in the tournament ahead of Lasa in the first place.

The table, ahead of the final week of qualification looks like this:









































































The final week’s fixtures are:

URRETXU, 23/03/2012

EIBAR, 25/03/2012

LABRIT, 24/03/2012

TOLOSA, 26/03/2012


Irujo and Barriola put substitutes to the sword

Sunday 11th March, Eibar


Pairs Championship

We were faced on Sunday afternoon with the unusual situation of a pair made up of two substitutes. Zubieta has now been out for several weeks with ongoing hand problems, and last week his regular partner Aritz Lasa joined the ranks of the ill and infirm. It fell therefore to Retegi Bi and Pascual to represent them, and although they were already out of the running for a place in the last four one could not help but conjure up visions of the injured duo watching this match from behind the sofa. The statistics make it look like a virtuoso showcase for Irujo, finishing as he did with fifteen winners to two errors, but in reality he had to do very little as Retegi Bi and Pascual looked utterly out of their depth and sealed their own fate.

The result was really never in any doubt. Right from the start, Irujo made his pressure tell and the opposing pair appeared to have no strategy for dealing with it and no cohesion. It appeared briefly as if a contest may be on the cards when Irujo made two careless mistakes in a row to turn 0-4 into 2-4, but that was as good as it was going to get for Retegi and Pascual. Irujo did not make another error in the match and Barriola, but for one low strike when falling backwards on 17-4, was faultless. Retegi had his chances but proved utterly incapable of making them count. On 2-9 for example, he had the easiest possible chance to seize a winner with a cross into the left wall but totally blew it, the ball clattering low. Too often he threw away position through a lack of imagination and an inability to break through Irujo’s control. Pascual meanwhile made matters worse and with every error he committed looked more and more disgruntled at having to be there at all. He was easy pickings for Barriola in the tactical stakes. The game was neatly summed up by the final point, in which Retegi hit the ball wildly wide directly from a disciplined and excellently directed Irujo serve.

It was expected that Irujo and Barriola would win this but the scale of their triumph must have filled them with considerable delight. They are embroiled in a close fight for a semi-final spot and a win plus a positive points difference of eighteen has done them the world of good. Having been out of the qualifying spots, they have leapfrogged Xala and Laskurain into fourth. Everything hinges on the next two weeks.

Scoring sequence: 4-0, 4-2, 10-2, 10-3, 18-3, 18-4, 22-4.

Winners/errors: Irujo 15/2, Barriola 0/1, Retegi Bi 1/2, Pascual 0/5.

Match time: 35:27 with 16:21 of actual play

Balls hit: 318

Pairs, week 11: five pairs now fight for three places

Saturday 3rd March, Pamplona: BENGOETXEA VI – APRAIZ beat ARITZ LASA – PASCUAL* 22-10

It is over and out for Aritz Lasa and the luckless Zubieta. There was talk of Zubieta returning this week but with qualification almost out of the question and a sensible desire to recover completely from the hand troubles which have plagued him this year, Pascual once again took up the mantle. Oinatz Bengoetxea has lacked consistency thus far in the tournament and needed a performance from the top drawer to remind both himself and us what a great player he is. At Labrit, he found his mojo with a staggering sixteen winners to no errors. Aritz Lasa, who showed flashes of brilliance last week, could not so much as hint at that this time round with a return of six to three. The defenders were more evenly matched, but in the face of a forward so completely on top of his game, their effect on the outcome of the match was minimal at best. Bengoextea and Apraiz are right in the frame for one of the remaining three semi-final places and with the unlikely demise of Irujo and Barriola, their chances look all the brighter.

Scoring sequence: 2-0, 2-2, 4-2, 4-5, 14-5, 14-6, 20-6, 20-10, 22-10

Winners/errors: Bengoetxea 16/0, Apraiz 2/2, Lasa 6/3, Pascual 1/1

Match time: 49 minutes

Pamplonas famous Labrit fronton

Pamplona's famous Labrit fronton

Saturday 3rd March, Amorebieta: BERASALUZE VIII – ALBISU beat XALA – LASKURAIN 22-12

This match was all about Pablo Berasaluze. Perhaps sensing that things were getting exceedingly tight in the fight for semi-final berths, the man from Berriz utterly annihilated Manomanista champion Xala in a whirlwind display of dominance. Fifteen winners in open play plus two with the serve tells its own story. In the face of this, Xala could only muster only one winner to one error. Xala and Laskurain had previously taken four matches in a row, but their run was brought to an abrupt halt as the Asegarce pair took their second win in as many weeks to slip into second place in the standings.

Scoring sequence: 1-1, 1-2, 2-5, 2-6, 3-11, 3-12, 4-12, 7-13, 8-15, 9-15, 11-16, 12-20, 12-22

Winners/errors: Xala 1/1, Laskurain 1/3, Berasaluze 17/6, Albisu 1/3

Match time: 1:23

Balls hit: 703

Berasaluze appears to like Amorebieta

Berasaluze appears to like Amorebieta

Sunday 4th March, Logrono: OLAIZOLA II – BEROIZ beat TITIN III – MERINO II 22-16

One almost runs out of things to say when reporting on yet another win for Olaizola and Beroiz, but at Adarraga their lives were not made easy. The home pairing of Titin and Merino took the game to the undefeated duo with much verve and no fear. Olaizola and Beroiz went ahead early, leading comfortably at 8-2 and 10-4, but their rivals fought back, taking the lead, and the match became exceedingly tight. The favourites drew level again at 15 and 16 and it seemed as if it would go down to the wire, with Olaizola showing rare signs of weakness. However, one crack in the Riojan army and he was able to seize the initiative, adding to his total of fifteen winners on his way to a 22-16 win which was in reality a closer run thing than the score might suggest. Beroiz was, again, imperious in defence, shading Merino in a battle of exciting young talent.

Scoring sequence: 0-2, 1-5, 2-8, 4-10, 8-10, 11-11, 11-13, 13-13, 15-13, 15-15, 16-16, 16-22

Winners/errors: Olaizola 15/4, Beroiz 1/1, Titin 9/3, Merino 2/3

Match time: 64 minutes

Balls hit: 499

The Pairs table, with three weeks to go, looks like this:









1 OLAIZOLA II – BEROIZ 11 11 0 242 135 +107
2 BERASALUZE VIII – ALBIS U 11 6 5 204 183 +21
3 TITIN III – MERINO II 11 6 5 211 198 +13
4 XALA – LASKURAIN 11 6 5 199 190 +9
5 BENGOETXEA VI – APRAIZ 11 6 5 194 197 -3
6 MTZ de IRUJO – BARRIOLA 11 5 6 205 191 +14
7 ARITZ LASA – ZUBIETA 11 3 8 170 217 -47
8 ARRETXE II – BEGINO 11 1 10 121 235 -114

 Photos: mine

Berasaluze saves the blushes of Albisu as rivals fall away

Sunday 26th February, Eibar


Pairs Championship

It looked to all the world as if Aritz Lasa and Penagarikano were going to take the win they so badly needed at Astelena last night. Lasa was playing excellently, with accuracy and real verve, and Albisu appeared trapped in a sequence of inaccuracy and self-doubt. The Aspe pair led comfortably from the off and although their opponents came back at them, they held them at bay. However, keeping Pablo Berasaluze down is never simple and just when the situation was becoming critical for his team, he produced the goods to maintain their qualification chances. Meanwhile, the afflicted Aitor Zubieta could only sit in the stands and watch as his proxy, Penagarikano, felt the heat and let everything slip.

Albisu was the culprit in the red pair’s early demise. In the second play of the match he left a long, spiralling ball from Lasa which looked to be going wide. When it fell in, his face was a picture of consternation. He then went on to miscue the ball three times in a row and before anyone had had time to blink, it was 0-5. Berasaluze and Albisu gradually pulled points back, and the latter did well to bomb Penagarikano into submission to get them off the mark. Berasaluze showed himself able to turn on the style when needed, and produced a whirlwind period of play between 7-12 and 12-13 to bring his pair right back into touch. When on 4-10, Albisu threw away a golden position in going high trying to get the ball over his opponent’s head, Berasaluze seized the serve back with a gantxo. When Lasa exerted excellent control to take the score to 6-12, Berasaluze jumped back in with two winners in a row. Albisu played his part with a long ball which trapped Penagarikano against the back wall but when he faltered in the next point, Berasaluze again rescued the momentum with a hat trick of winners. With a gap of only one point, the match had taken on a very different complexion and this was down almost entirely to the tenacity of the man from Berriz.

Lasa and Penagarikano stopped the rot and extended their advantage to four again at 12-16, but sensing the situation was now very dangerous, Berasaluze moved again. Penagarikano had hitherto played very well indeed but as Berasaluze turned the screw, he faltered, committing a string of errors right at the death. There was little Lasa could do to rescue him in the face of his opposite number, who took all the pressure off his ailing defensive partner and deposited it elsewhere. This was an opportunity too good to miss for the Aspe pair to secure a crucial win, with Lasa on song and Albisu out of form. It is to Berasaluze’s credit that they failed to drive it home.

Scoring sequence: 0-5, 1-5, 1-7, 2-7, 4-7, 4-11, 6-11, 6-12, 9-12, 9-13, 10-13, 12-13, 12-16, 16-16, 16-17, 17-17, 21-17, 21-18, 22-18.

Winners/errors: Berasaluze 13/2, Lasa 7/0, Albisu 5/8, Penagarikano ¼

Match time: 1:04.43 with 21:49 of actual play

Balls hit: 414

Olaizola II-Beroiz officially semi-finalists, Aritz Lasa-Penagarikano and Xala-Laskurain victorious

Saturday 18th February, Pamplona: XALA-LASKURAIN beat GONZALEZ*-BARRIOLA 22-13

Sebastien Gonzalez entered the fray at Labrit on Saturday thanks to Juan Martinez de Irujo contracting mumps, an ailment which will also keep him out of the showdown with Olaizola II and Beroiz this coming weekend. Gonzalez, to his credit, acquitted himself extremely well, perhaps in an effort to prove that he should have been in the tournament in the first place, producing a tally of ten winners. However, he was up against a Xala in inspired form. His fellow French Basque hit thirteen winners to only one error, and together with the impressive solidity of Laskurain this was more than enough to get them over the line for their fourth win. Barriola, although on paper reliable, was pressured by Laskurain and ultimately outplayed. Irujo and Barriola appeared dead certs to make the semi finals in the first few rotations, but now they will have to watch their backs; they are still second but are level on points with three other pairs, including Xala and Laskurain.

Scoring sequence: 1-0, 1-1, 2-1, 2-4, 4-4, 4-6, 7-6, 7-7, 12-7, 12-10, 16-10, 16-13, 22-13

Winners/errors: Xala 13/3, Gonzalez 10/5, Laskurain 1/1, Barriola 0/2

Aritz Laskurain played an excellent match

Aritz Laskurain played an excellent match

Monday 20th February, Tolosa: ARITZ LASA-PENAGARIKANO* beat TITIN III-MERINO II 22-15

Monday’s match in Tolosa also featured an injury substitution, with Kepa Penagarikano coming in for Aitor Zubieta, the state of whose hands force him to take a break. Penagarikano, though without the reputation of the former champion, filled his shoes admirably and outplayed David Merino who was unable to overcome his stranglehold. At the front, Aritz Lasa started slowly, allowing the Riojans to take the early lead, but as the game progressed his confidence rocketed. He showed Titin little respect and stuck to his own game with some resolve. Once their lead had been established at 10-6, there was no looking back for the underdogs who played on a different level from their opponents. This win was essential and they will need more in order to stand any chance of progressing. With Zubieta out for another two weeks at least, Aspe will hope that Penagarikano can hold his form and Lasa maintain the consistency he has at times so badly lacked. The victors remain seventh, while Titin and Merino slip one place to fourth.

Scoring sequence: 3-0, 3-2, 4-2, 4-3, 5-3, 5-5, 6-6, 6-10, 6-14, 12-16, 12-17, 13-17, 13-21, 15-21, 15-22.

Tuesday 21st February, Tolosa: OLAIZOLA II-BEROIZ beat ARRETXE II-BEGINO 22-11

There was no surprise whatsoever in this result, apart perhaps from the fact that Iker Arretxe and Aritz Begino scored as many points as they did. That they were still in the match at 10-13 was down largely to the play of Begino, but once Aimar Olaizola nudged up a gear, the table’s bottom pair had no answer. The star forward was the player of the match, and with the metronomic support of Beroiz, barely had to extend himself. Nine wins from Nine means that Olaizola and Beroiz are assured of a place in the last four. Whoever joins them will have to think long and hard about how they can be undone.

Scoring sequence: 5-0, 8-2, 12-5, 12-9, 13-10, 19-10, 22-11.

This week’s results mean that the table, with five rounds to go, looks like this:

1 OLAIZOLA II – BEROIZ    9   9   +97
2 MTZ de IRUJO – BARRIOLA   9   5   +25
3 XALA – LASKURAIN      9   5   +13
4 TITIN III – MERINO II     9   5    +8
5 BENGOETXEA VI – APRAIZ   9   5   -4
6 BERASALUZE VIII – ALBISU   9   4    +7
7 ARITZ LASA – ZUBIETA   9   3     -31
8 ARRETXE II – BEGINO    9   0   -114

Photo: mine