Farmers & Merchants Bank seize their moment in the sixth chukka
Building off the momentum and confidence of winning the Farmers & Merchants Bank America Cup, Farmers & Merchants Bank (FMB) jumped into the final 16-goal tournament of the series with the hope of claiming two consecutive trophies. Navigating their way through bracket play with only one loss on their record, FMB met 2018 finalist Lucchese on Sunday, September 1, to compete in the Silver Air Pacific Coast Open Final at the Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club in Carpinteria, California. Although Lucchese seemed to have the upper hand from the first chukker through the fifth, a determined FMB found their stride in the sixth to capture their second Pacific Coast Open trophy since 2017, 9-8.
I am grateful and privileged for the spectators who came out to cheer for FMB. I had chills when we rode up to them at the end of the game, thanking them for coming and watching us. Their screams of congratulations gave me chills, what a great moment! –Farmers & Merchants Bank Team Owner, Danny Walker
Establishing themselves with a strong performance in the first half, Lucchese threw FMB off balance with a scoreless first chukker. Opening up the game with a field goal from Jorge Cernadas and a Penalty 4 conversion by Jeff Hall, Lucchese assumed an early lead which would prove difficult to shake. Adding the only goal of the second chukker, Juan Monteverde successfully landed his team on the board with a shot from the field. Missing crucial opportunities at goal, FMB continued to trail headed into halftime, scoring only one goal to Lucchese’s three. Three members of Lucchese having contributed to the scoreboard, the half ended 5-2 in their favor.
Both teams matching each other goal for goal in the fourth and fifth chukkas, the three-goal difference held while FMB strategised effective ways to disarm Lucchese’s offensive attacks. Only seven-and-a-half minutes separating them from certain defeat, FMB came alive and turned the game around in a matter of minutes, dominating the chukker with the swift accuracy of Toccalino. Blazing across the field and positioning his team to block defenders, Toccalino rapidly chipped away at the deficit, scoring three unanswered goals to tie the game for the first time 8-all. Within reach of overtaking the lead in the final minutes, FMB continued to play with renewed fervor. Hammering the ball between the posts, it was Monteverde who ultimately scored the pivotal game winning goal, securing the final 9-8.
Not getting the start they had hoped for, FMB’s shift in the second half proved that the game could change at any time. “We were confident headed into the last chukker, but at the same time I felt that we were not having the luck we needed to win,” Monteverde revealed. “We were not hitting the ball well or scoring the goals we needed to. But then things started changing and we were lucky enough to be the winners.”
Responsible for six of FMB’s nine total goals, Santiago Toccalino was named Most Valuable Player. Playing in Buenos Aires, Argentina, when he received the call to play as a substitute, Toccalino flew into California the Tuesday before the final, having only one day to practice with the team. “In the beginning we were hurried and not going to the man,” Toccalino said recalling the final. “We couldn’t make our plays happen and what we thought we were going to do we weren’t able to. We decided to calm down, keep on trying and see if we could find our rhythm because we needed to play with speed. We had a good comeback in the second half and we are happy that we won, but it’s not just about winning. We had a great time playing together as a team and it’s been a great tournament.”
Best Playing Pony honours were awarded to Pen Ultimo, played by Jeff Hall in the fifth chukker and as a spare for the first three chukkas.
Adding two substitutes to their roster throughout the tournament, FMB had to overcome multiple changes to the dynamic of their original team, yet they adjusted well to the new additions. “Lucas Criado suffered an elbow injury and the first substitution was Juan Monteverde,” Danny Walker explained. “He played with us for five weeks and then we lost Pipe Vercellino to a knee injury. Santiago Toccalino flew in from Argentina to play the semifinal and the final for us, making FMB a 16-goal team again. What an amazing ending this is to a great story.”
Playing his first full season in a high-goal tournament, 17-year-old team captain Lucas Escobar echoed Walker’s sentiments. “Santiago [Toccalino] is so talented, he made it easy to play with him and he especially helped after losing Lucas Criado and Pipe Vercellino.” Joining his father Luis (1990, 2004) and brother Nico (2017), previous winners of the Pacific Coast Open, Lucas Escobar added his name to the prestigious trophy plate.
Known for having a quality string of horses, FMB takes pride in developing their equine athletes, team owner Danny Walker receiving Best String for the season. “We focused for an entire year on what we wanted to accomplish, in relationship to horses, and they proved to be a winning factor in what we accomplished today,” Walker said. Having access to Pipe Vercellino’s string of horses upon his arrival, Toccalino was able to make critical plays on the field to level the scoreboard. “Pipe is really well mounted and there are many horses that are very good,” Toccalino said. “I am also really thankful for Danny, Lucas and Juan. The good thing was that we played as a team today and we enjoyed ourselves.”