Friday 12th June, Las Llamas, Sestao
IBAI PEREZ – PASCUAL beat ARITZ LASA – EULATE 22-19
ASPE have been shopping for new young blood and on Friday in Sestao, their second recent acquisition made his eagerly awaited professional debut. He had a hard act to follow after the convincing win pulled off by the first new pro, Cecilio, two weeks ago, but Ibai Perez delivered with cream on top. In front of a large and enthusiastic crowd in his home town, the young forward played with incredible tenacity and verve to humble a quality pair in Aritz Lasa and Eulate. They say the young have no nerves and of this Ibai is living proof.
In a match which lasted nearly an hour and a half, almost every point was a game in miniature. The first play continued for a lifetime and Ibai Perez was kept waiting for his first contact with the pelota by his partner, Inigo Pascual, who took on the point almost singlehandedly. However, when he did enter the breach, he made his presence felt, immediately overcoming Aritz Lasa in the forward tussle when his pressure caused his opponent to misfire with a hook. However, despite this excellent opening salvo from the pair in blue, the first half of the match was all about Aritz and Eulate, who despite never appearing streets ahead, possessed the edge in finishing power. From 0-1, they took the score to 4-1 and then 7-2 thanks to some solid serving from Aritz and an unfortunate error from the debutante who had a gargantuan point at his mercy before hitting inexplicably low. However, from this juncture, Pascual and Ibai Perez began to claw their way back. Two errors from Aritz reduced the deficit to three before another monstrous point gave Ibai Perez in particular a huge fillip. It was an excellent example of doubles play from all concerned; Pascual was peppered with one long ball after another but returned with interest and his young partner flung himself in all directions for the cause before flooring Eulate with a masterful drop. The apprentice had suddenly turned boss.
The lead of Aritz Lasa and Eulate grew once more to five points at 13-8, due in large part to three errors from Pascual, who hit wide and low in succession, before missing the ball altogether, and a slip and a winner from Ibai and Aritz respectively. In this early portion of the game, it was Eulate who held the key to red control, providing a solid and dependable platform from which Aritz Lasa could attack. Nobody could have imagined that the wheels would fall off in such dramatic fashion. Eulate, extraordinarily, committed five errors in a row, hitting both high, low and short. Ibai Perez’s pressure and strong service are an explanation of sorts, but Eulate seemed to have lost the metaphorical plot. When Ibai struck a stinging txoko winner to take the lead for the first time, the crowd raised the roof. The local boy was on fire and would never be headed again. The ‘home’ team’s lead never grew to more than three, but so assured did they look that the result seemed sealed. Eulate, although he improved, made a further six errors in the match and this was extremely telling, but nothing must be taken away from the triumph of Ibai and Pascual, who fought like warriors for every scrap which came their way. The point which closed the lead of the eventual winners to a single point at 18-19 was emblematic of a match where every rally was a tussle to the death. It lasted 4.40 minutes and 91 strikes of the ball before Aritz Lasa finally out-manoeuvred Ibai Perez to take the spoils. But this was transient triumph for Aritz and Eulate; they won the battle but Pascual and his rookie partner won the war.
Ibai Perez, on the strength of his performance here, is a tantalising prospect. He is fast and bustling, somewhat in the manner of Oinatz Bengoetxea, and hits with abandon and a noted lack of fear. This was a tense, close match, where almost every point hung on a knife edge, yet the young forward never lost focus, displaying a maturity far in advance of his tender years. ASPE must nurture him with care.
Scoring sequence: 0-1, 1-1, 4-1, 4-2, 7-2, 7-3, 7-5, 8-5, 10-5, 10-7, 11-7, 11-8, 12-8, 13-8, 13-9, 13-16, 14-16, 15-16, 15-17, 15-18, 16-18, 16-19, 17-19, 18-19, 19-19, 19-20, 19-22.