Tag Archives: Astelena

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

Bengoetxea and Beroiz edge thriller at Astelena

Sunday 6th January, Eibar

It would be hard to top Friday’s game in San Sebastian for excitement, but this one may just have managed it. The normally fairly sedate Astelena Sunday evening crowd could not fail to be fired up by affairs this week, as Oinatz Bengoetxea and Mikel Beroiz seized victory from the jaws of defeat to go top of the table. The game was characterised by a fair number of errors all round, but these did not detract from the closeness of almost every rally and from some stunning winners, not only from the forwards but from Zabaleta, who won five points off his own bat. All four players fought to the death in a very tight struggle where almost every point hung on a knife edge. Bengoetxea and Beroiz appeared to have things under some semblance of control, leading 11-4 and 19-15 but both Irujo and Zabaleta lifted their game late on. At 21-19, the Asegarce pair still seemed as if they would edge it, but their opponents fought to 21-21. The final point could have gone either way, as was the case with so many of the game’s rallies. It was won for the red pair by Beroiz, who either by luck or inspired design, hit a winner to the wide court where it fell perfectly just out of reach of both blues. The unbeaten Bengoetxea and Beroiz therefore strengthen their claim to favouritism and head the standings, while Irujo and Zabaleta, with two wins and one loss, are second.

Winners/errors: Bengoetxea 10/3, Irujo 7/5, Beroiz 1/6, Zabaleta 5/6
Balls hit: 639
Match time: 73 minutes with 31 minutes of actual play

Oinatz Bengoetxea had the better of the forward play

Oinatz Bengoetxea had the better of the forward play

Photo: mine

Irujo and Zabaleta inflict Riojans’ second defeat

Tuesday 1st January, Eibar


Pairs Championship

The defending champions have had the worst possible start to their defence. Last week they lost to the untested pair of Olaizola II and Ibai Zabala, Merino suffering an injury to his tailbone in the process, and on Tuesday Titin, along with Miguel Merino, standing in for his brother, went down again. The manner of this second defeat, as well as its consequences, will surely rankle. the Riojans led for most of the match, edging ahead early before extending their advantage to 15-10 and 18-13 as Irujo appeared uncharacteristically restrained. However, they let their rivals back into it at the death with some very wayward play, especially from Merino, whose regular misses late on visibly pained his younger brother, on whom the camera lingered in the stands. It was a game in which errors made the difference. Titin managed nine winners, making him both on paper and in practice far more potent than Irujo, but conceded five too. However, the real culprit was Merino, who made nine errors to Zabaleta’s five. The latter’s misdemeanors were cancelled out by five winners, something Merino cannot fall back on. Zabaleta, though not thrilling, was probably the player of the match in that he put a great deal of pressure on the opposing pair, leading to many of their slips. Irujo and Zabaleta go top of the table, despite being less than convincing, while things can surely only get better for the champions.

Scoring sequence: 0-1/ 1/ 1-3/ 2-4/ 6-4/ 6-5/ 8-5/ 8-7/ 9-7/ 10-7/ 10/ 15-10/ 15-12/ 16-12/ 16-13/ 18-13/ 18-15/ 19-15/ 19/ 19-22
Winners/errors: Titin 9/5, Irujo 5/3, Merino 0/9, Zabaleta 5/5
Match time: 54.39 with 25.18 of actual play
Balls hit: 458

A day to forget for Miguel Merino

A day to forget for Miguel Merino

Pairs Championship: Aimar leads from the front for Christmas triumph

Tuesday 25th December, Eibar


Pairs Championship

This had the makings of a highly intriguing match up. On the one hand, we had the defending champions, Titin and Merino, an established pair who combine experience and youthful talent in a coherent whole. Against them stood the biggest mismatch of the championship, Olaizola, the undisputed number one, and his partner the highly inexperienced debutant Ibai Zabala. Everything rested on whether Olaizola, still riding a purple patch of form which has extended for nigh on two years, could carry his partner to the extent that he could overcome such a talented pair. In the end, the answer was a resounding ‘yes’. Olaizola shouldered a massive proportion of the responsibility, striking many more balls than his partner, which is notable in that the defender usually hits more balls than the forward in pairs matches. He knew what he had to do and rose to the task.

The defending champions went behind almost immediately, going down 2-0 and 5-1. They came back into it, but were only to lead on two occasions, once at 6-5 and again at 7-6. Thereafter, the Asegarce pair was in almost total control. Ibai Zabala held up his end admirably, but in truth all he had to do was to defend and let his illustrious partner do the work. If Titin had been in better form the balance might have swung back, but Olaizola had his number, controlling the front of the court like a territorial tiger. He ruled the side wall, creating the angles and the space to pass his opponent and gave Titin no room to move. He scored more than double the number of winners of his rival, a whopping fourteen out of the twenty two needed to pass the line. Merino was the better defender, despite a nasty knock to his tailbone late in the game, but with such imbalance up front there was little he could do. The obvious tactic should have been to take Olaizola out of the game by hitting long to punish Zabala, but his control was too great and Titin was for the most part forced to fight for scraps. Once the lead had reached 17-11 there was no comeback and the body language of the champions suggested that they knew this.

So far so good for the most puzzling pair of the tournament. Olaizola was as stunning as one might expect and Ibai Zabala did what he needed to do to support him. Their fate in the competition depends on for how long Olaizola can keep this up. The Pairs is a long championship which requires consistency week in week out. It is also highly demanding physically. One senses that a slight dip in form for Olaizola, coupled with weaknesses creeping in from behind could see them fall from their early pedestal. Time will tell, but they will have enjoyed their Christmas.

Scoring sequence: 2-0, 2-1, 5-1, 5-6, 6-6, 6-7, 13-7, 13-8, 14-8, 14-10, 15-10, 15-11, 17-11, 17-13, 21-13, 21-14, 22-14
Service winners/errors: Olaizola 2, Titin 0
Winners/errors: Olaizola 14/4, Titin 6/4, Zabala 0/3, Merino 1/2
Balls hit: 500
Match time: 65 minutes

A winning debut for Ibai Zabala

A winning debut for Ibai Zabala

Cuatro y Medio: Irujo wins Barriola shoot out to set up semi-final classic

Sunday 11th November, Eibar


Of all the Cuatro y Medio quarter final league matches this weekend, this was the one which mattered. The equation was simple; the winner would go through and the loser would be out, each having won one and lost one in the previous two rotations. For the winner, the dubious privilege of meeting multiple champion Aimar Olaizola in the last four. Irujo it was who stepped up his game in devastating fashion, so bringing about the encounter most expected to see in the final.

Barriola is unusual in being a defender with a live fighting chance in this tournament. He made the final in 2010 and beaten by Irujo 22-17 there was no disgrace. However, one sensed he had a mountain to climb at Astelena on Sunday against a rival in no mood to fold in the wake of his last ditch defeat to Berasaluze the previous weekend. Although Barriola snagged the first two points, almost everything subsequently went the way of the favourite. Irujo bossed the show and Barriola proved incapable of matching his furious pace. The Leitzarra was in touch at 6-7, but from then on his deficit only grew. In a mere 174 strikes of the ball, the whirlwind of Ibero was through. He plays the defending champion on Sunday in Bilbao, where the atmosphere will surely top even the enthusiasm displayed in Eibar, where the crowd was in full cry. It is not to be missed.

Scoring sequence: 2-0/ 2-6/ 4-6/ 4-7/ 6-7/ 6-10/ 7-10/ 7-15/ 8-15/ 8-16/ 9-16/ 9-17/ 10-17/ 10-22
Service winners/errors: Barriola 2/1, Irujo 1/1
Winners/errors: Barriola 4/7, Irujo 13/4
Match time: 34 minutes with 7 minutes of actual play
Balls hit: 174

Irujo marches on

Irujo marches on

Cuatro y Medio: the week that was

Shell shocked Xala beaten 22-12 by Arretxe
The quarter final rotations got underway last Friday, across the bay in Iparralde, when Arretxe II took on Xala in Hendaia. Nobody would have made Arretxe favourite for this game; Xala is by far the more decorated, the more experienced at this level and had near home advantage to boot. However, the upset happened. Xala was simply never in the game and looked utterly lacklustre, but nothing must be taken away from the underdog, for this was not a simple case of the favourite being dramatically off colour. Arretxe bossed almost every point, finishing with a whopping sixteen winners. That Xala made only six errors in a match where he was so comprehensively beaten is testament to Arretxe’s dominance. The final score is flattering to Xala, and came about thanks only to a relatively late rally from the former Manomanista champion, who mustered six winners in a row on the way from 3-18 to 12-19. However, any hope of an extraordinary comeback was dashed by some further Arretxe shot play. Xala appeared stunned, along with his legion of fans, and now has work to do to make the semis.
Scoring sequence: 0-5, 1-5, 1-10, 2-10, 2-14, 3-14, 3-18, 10-19, 12-19, 12-22.
Winners/errors: Xala 8/6, Arretxe 16/4
Balls hit: 197
Match time: 39:42 with 7:13 of actual play



(Image by Patrick Janicek under Creative Commons)

Olaizola II beat Bengoetxea VI 22-13. The following day it was the turn of the defending champion to take the stage in Pamplona, and he demonstrated to the public in no uncertain terms why he has won this title on five occasions. Bengoetxea, although he has never been Cuatro y Medio champion, is a great exponent of the short court game, having won the Navarrese title twice, including the last two editions, but he found the going tough here, despite fighting every inch of the way in his customary style. Olaizola punished him with a physical game, littered with trademark left handed hooks, and although Bengoetxea pushed him close in the mid part of the game, closing to 8-10, he had little answer in the latter stages.
Scoring sequence: 3-0, 6-3, 10-3, 10-8, 13-10, 15-10, 17-11, 18-13, 22-13
Balls hit: 259
Match time: 46 minutes



On Sunday, the pelota cognoscenti gathered in Eibar, where Martinez de Irujo beat Retegi Bi 22-18. In contrast to Friday’s game, this one appeared to be matching the form book from the start, when Irujo stormed into a 10-1 lead. Playing with more speed and vigour than Retegi could handle, the man from Ibero was in complete control. However, spurred on by his great father in the botillero’s chair, the less lauded player fought his way back, first to 4-10 and from thence to 5-13, 13-14 and 15-15 before seizing the lead at 15-16 with his second service winner in a row. His lead grew when Irujo hit low for 15-17 and an upset looked on. However, Irujo snapped into action when it really mattered, breaking his opponent’s heart with a run of five straight points. Retegi pulled on back at 20-18 to restore a little hope, but when he hit high in the next point, Irujo wasted no time in producing a winning serve to take a win which was far less comfortable than it should have been.
Scoring sequence: 2-0, 2-1, 10-1, 10-2, 10-4, 12-4, 12-5, 14-5, 14-13, 15-13, 15-17, 20-17, 20-18, 22-18
Winners/errors: Irujo 16/10, Retegi Bi 8/6
Balls hit: 234
Match time: 40:40 with 9:51 of actual play



Berasaluze VIII beat Barriola 22-11. On Monday it was the turn of Abel Barriola and Pablo Berasaluze to strut their stuff as they clashed at Santanape in Gernika. This looked on paper to be a potential close run thing, but Berasaluze proved by far the stronger. He prevented Barriola from unleashing his left arm by taking many balls on the volley and defended like a terrier. With the score at 20-5 in Berasaluze’s favour, Barriola looked to be in for an embarrassing evening but the Leitzarra managed to rally to a degree, saving face by adding six further points. This was nowhere near enough however to prevent the Asegarce player from seizing the day.
Scoring sequence: 1-1, 2-2, 3-2, 3-7, 4-11, 5-20, 11-22
Balls hit: 200
Match time: 52 minutes



In the Promocion Championship, the results were as follows:
26th October, Arrigorriaga: OLAZABAL beat ELEZKANO II 22-19

27th October, Pamplona: JAUNARENA beat LEMUNO 22-16
27th October, Ezcaray: UNTORIA beat GORKA 22-18
28th October, Eibar: RICO IV beat APEZETXEA 22-12

This week, the main championship fixtures are:
Friday 2nd November, Leitza: XALA v BENGOETXEA VI
Saturday 3rd November, Pamplona: BERASALUZE VIII v MARTINEZ DE IRUJO
Sunday 4th November, Bilbao: BARRIOLA v RETEGI BI
Monday 5th November, Tolosa: OLAIZOLA II v ARRETXE II

The Promocion Championship games are:
Friday 2nd November, Leitza: JAUNARENA v UNTORIA
Saturday 3rd November, Pamplona: GORKA v LEMUNO
Sunday 4th November, Bilbao: APEZETXEA v ELEZKANO II
Monday 5th November: Tolosa: OLAZABAL v RICO IV

Arretxe remains firm as Mendizabal rues chances missed

Sunday 14th October, Eibar


Cuatro y Medio first round

The winner of the Promocion Cuatro y Medio gains automatic entry to the main championship the following year, and so it was that Aitor Mendizabal, so impressive in the second tier competition in 2011, took to the stage today. In his way was Iker Arretxe, a pelotari who blows hot and cold. Arretxe had a nightmare in the first weeks of 2012, repeatedly mauled in the Pairs Championship in the company of Aritz Begino, but here he reminded us of the talent he harbours. He was rarely stunning but for the most part showed impressive control, exploiting the infelicities of a younger player who proved unable to build on positions of strength.

It was Arretxe who eked out the early advantage with three varied winners, but Mendizabal set out to demonstrate the step up in class would not faze him, producing a txoko followed by a cross court winner to tie affairs at 3-3. However, Arretxe worked up little sweat in pulling away to 8-3, and in doing so a pattern was established of Mendizabal failing to capitalise on good positions. On 6-3, for example, he had the wide court at his mercy but rushed over eagerly into his attempted winner and pushed it wide. Again, with the score at 8-5 to Arretxe, Mendizabal blew any chance of coming within two points of the lead by failing to do nearly enough with a txoko and laying himself bare to a dos paredes from Arretxe. A similar pattern continued until the gap became sizeable at 12-6. From this juncture, some semblance of order descended upon Mendizabal and he began to play the shots of which we know him to be capable. He traded blows with Arretxe before embarking upon a run of four consecutive points , including two authoritative service winners, to come right back into the match at 11-14. However, just as the tide threatened to turn, Mendizabal again committed unnecessary sins. He struck a service falta for 11-15 and despite being let off the hook by a miscue from Arretxe committed the same sin again two points later. Arretxe, perhaps sensing the younger player’s despondency at his chances missed, seized the day thereafter, ceding only one more point on his way to a 22-13 win.

This match should have been closer than it was, but there can be no question that Iker Arretxe was the better player. His play was rarely scintillating but when he did open his shoulders the results were often quite excellent. Mendizabal showed flashes of the pace which took him to the second tier crown a year ago, but never settled and allowed too many chances to fall through his fingers. Arretxe now plays Titin, in what will surely be a sterner examination of his mettle.

Scoring sequence: 0-1, 3-1, 3-3, 8-3, 8-5, 9-5, 9-6, 12-6, 12-7, 14-7, 14-11, 15-11, 15-12, 18-12, 18-13, 22-13
Winners/errors: Arretxe 12/7, Mendizabal 6/10
Balls hit: 247
Match time: 44:24 with 10:39 of actual play

Aitor Mendizabal could not continue last years success

Aitor Mendizabal could not continue last year's success

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.

Ezkurdia labours past gutsy Untoria to set up clash with Jaunarena

Sunday 3rd June, Eibar


Promocion Manomanista Semi-Final

Joseba Ezkurdia completed the line up for the Promocion Manomanista final with a tough victory over Alvaro Untoria at Astelena on Sunday evening. The man from Arbizu, who has already taken so many scalps in his short career, was the clear favourite here despite the ankle injury which had forced the postponement of this match and put his championship in severe doubt. He tested his fitness late last week and declared his readiness to play, but despite appearing physically well in the match itself, he finished it in some discomfort. Untoria, bidding to give Rioja another finalist in what has been a golden year for them so far, refused to be bowed by Ezkurdia’s reputation as the next big thing and pushed him all the way, fighting back from 1-11 down to 15-15 and 18-18. Ezkurdia had just too much in the end, finishing the game with two service errors and a visible sigh of relief. He will play Jon Jaunarena, Promocion Pairs champion, in the final, in what promises to be a closely fought encounter. Aspe announced this morning that the final will be held off until 30th June (at Labrit) due to Ezkurdia’s ankle problems and a hand issue for Jaunerena.

Manomanista: Irujo wards off determined Idoate challenge for final place

Sunday 3rd June, Eibar


Manomanista Semi-Final

Juan Martinez de Irujo is making something of a speciality of giving his opponents a head start. Before the Astelena crowd had had time to visit the bar and settle into their seats, the four-time champion was 6-0 down against a young talent whose tail was very much up. Irujo threw away the first point by falling low and Idoate took advantage of his own balls by firing off two service winners before Irujo went low again. It was 5-0 when Idoate pulled off an easy drop volley straight from the return of serve and he then showed that he could live with the favourite in a longer rally too, moving Irujo all over the fronton before nailing him with a cross court ball to the corner. Despite the clear ascendency of Idoate at this early stage however, there is always the assumption that Irujo will come hurtling back, almost mocking his rival for ever believing they had a chance to take his scalp. When Idoate miscued a high ball into the wall to allow Irujo onto the scorecard at 6-1, it seemed the inevitable would happen, and indeed Irujo closed his challenger down to 5-6.

However, Idoate was to prove a tougher opponent than many had predicted. He is a player hovering on the edge of the top flight, and even though he ultimately lost here, he has surely thrown his name into the hat for selection in major tournaments over the next couple of years. He prevented Irujo from drawing level by saving a dos paredes and then striking a winning txoko, and proceeded to pull away again, opening his lead up to 11-5 with real authority and total command of the playing area. Irujo was made to look ordinary. Sadly for the underdog and for his vocal fans though, it was not to last. Being left behind twice over was not to Irujo’s taste and he shifted into a gear which Idoate simply could not match. He seized the serve back with a txoko to make it 6-11 and proceeded to take the next ten points. Idoate had previously played Irujo like a puppet on a string but now the man from Ibero returned the favour with interest, dominating points straight from the serve and never allowing Idoate into a position of advantage. Idoate was still very much in the match at 11-12 and had a golden chance to re-establish some momentum when he finally managed to pin Irujo back, but the opportunity was blown with an unforced error. Everything was going Irujo’s way as he raced to 16-11.

Idoate, however, is not one to give in and when Irujo went high on the side wall for 16-12 he gradually worked his way back into contention. A brace of errors from Irujo and he found himself within two at 14-16 and then only one away from parity due to a high ball from Irujo for 16-17. Irujo kept his nose in front every time Idoate came too close however, and extended his advantage to 19-16 with an easy volley and an untouchable ball over Idoate’s head. Again though, Idoate doggedly returned, closing to 18-19 when Irujo completely missed the ball after a close battle at the front. Again though, Idoate blew his big chance, hitting unnecessarily low to gift Irujo the serve again with the finishing line in sight. This time, Idoate had nothing left to give and as Irujo cleaned things up he surely left the fronton ruing what might have been. Not many can beat Irujo at this stage in the Manomanista, but Idoate succeeded in giving him an almighty shock. Irujo proceeds to play either Olaizola II or Bengoetxea VI in the final, but Idoate will surely someday reach these exalted heights.

Scoring sequence: 0-6, 5-6, 5-11, 16-11, 16-12, 16-14, 17-14, 17-16, 19-16, 19-18, 22-18.

Winners/errors: Irujo 14/8 (no service winners), Idoate 10/8 (3 service winners)

Irujo eyes another Manomanista title

Irujo eyes another Manomanista title