Both semifinals on Saturday were engrossing affairs befitting the intensely competed month-long tournament. While the first between Uttar Pradesh Wizards and Ranchi Rays went down to wire and deadlock could only be broken by penalty shoot-out, the second was no less absorbing. Jaypee Punjab Warriors had to produce their best game to fend off defending champions Delhi Waveriders. Curtains will come down on Sunday with two matches. The first will feature the losing semifinalists for the Bronze Medal while the concluding match of this year’s Hero Hockey India League will decide the 2015 winner.
In the first quarter of the game between UP and Ranchi, both sides began with attacks on each other’s half. The quarter ended goalless despite close goal-scoring opportunities from both sides. Taking turns, the teams penetrated each other’s defense, entered the D but couldn’t capitalize on the chances. In the second quarter, UPW enhanced the momentum and attacked the RR goal with renewed vigor. Ranchi got their first penalty corner early in the second quarter but Ashley Jackson’s strike was brilliantly saved by India custodian Sreejesh. In a counter-attack, UPW raided the RR goal but failed to convert a simple chance with Tyler Lovell out of place. In the next minute, Ranchi got their second penalty corner and this time Ashley Jackson tried a variation by passing the ball to Austin Smith. But there was Sreejesh once again, who had sensed the direction of Smith’s shot and the danger was averted. Another penalty corner award for RR followed soon and yet again Sreejesh frustrated Ranchi with his terrific skills. The second quarter also ended 0-0.
In the third quarter, UPW went 1-0 ahead in the 34th minute, when Raghunath was bang on target with his penalty corner conversion, giving no chance to Tyler Lovell. Both sides were charged up and pace of the game quickened after the goal. In the 41st minute, a UPW defender wrongly pushed RR’s Mandeep Singh, who had entered the D with the ball. The referee awarded a penalty stroke to RR and Ashley Jackson slid the ball effortlessly past Sreejesh. The quarter ended at the score of 1-1. In the last quarter, the teams showed superb stick work and sound defense with a view to averting any goals. With two minutes left in the regulation time, RR got another penalty corner but it was foiled by UPW’s strong defense. UP Wizards also got a goal-scoring chance with seconds left but Bob De Voogd’s strong hit was blocked by Lovell Tyler. With the scores tied at 1-1 at the end, tie-break by penalty shootout became necessary.
For the tie-breaker, UPW brought George Bazeley in place of Sreejesh. Both sides successfully converted all their chances and the first tie-breaker did not yield any results. The same thing happened with the second tie-breaker as well and the third tie-breaker was necessitated. After UPW and RR scored from the first two strikes, UPW’s Alexander Baart failed to convert. Coming next was RR’s Daniel Beale. He had to score for Ranchi Rays to reach the finals. Beale made no mistake and RR marched into the finals.
In the second semifinal later in the evening, Jaypee Punjab Warriors met Delhi Waveriders. Two minutes from the start of the first quarter, JPW earned their first penalty corner but the ever reliable Sandeep Singh flicked wide. Sandeep made amends within the next minute, when JPW got their second penalty corner. This time Sandeep’s drag flick found its mark. The early goal served as a catalyst for enhanced momentum from both sides and they went to attack each other in turn. DW also earned their first penalty corner but Rupinder Singh’s shot by nicely cleared by Jaap Stockmann. In the 13th minute, JPW got their third penalty corner but failed to convert and the first quarter ended with JPW leading 1-0. In the second quarter, both teams fortified there defenses and prevented the other side from scoring. The quarter ended with halftime score remaining 1-0 in JPW’s favor.
In the third quarter, JPW continued to mount pressure on Delhi and doubled their lead in the 35th minute. A sudden move from Agustin Mazzilli completely foxed Nicolas Jacobi. Trailing 0-2 and looking for squaring off opportunities, DW attacked the JPW goal and earned a second penalty corner in 38th minute but yet again, Rupinder Singh failed to control the ball. Despite attempts from both sides, the third quarter play could not add any more goals and the teams entered the last quarter with a 2-0 lead in favor of JPW. Within a minute, DW carried the attack in Punjab’s D and finding himself in good position, Matt Gohdes shot powerfully but Jaap Stockmann was true to his task. Meanwhile, JPW’s speedster SV Sunil ran solo all the way to the DW goal area, where Rupinder Pal Singh’s solid defense brought Sunil’s efforts to an end. Delhi did their best to score in the final few minutes but couldn’t get past JPW’s strong defense and Jaap’s fine goalkeeping. JPW entered the final with a 2-0 score against the defending champions. In Sunday’s final, Punjab will take on Ranchi Rays, while Delhi Waveriders and Up Wizards will contest for the bronze medal.