SIXTH CHUKKER SHOWDOWN: FORBES PLUNKETT BESTS BTA
January 31, 2024
The first tournament of the NPC 16-Goal Championship, the Joe Barry Memorial, concluded on Sunday, January 28, at the National Polo Center (NPC) in Wellington, Florida. Meeting for the second time in the tournament, BTA (Ignacio “Nachi” Viana, Steve Krueger*, Alfonso Pieres, Kelly Beal) looked to defeat Forbes Plunkett (Brandon Plunkett, Nicolas “Nico” Escobar*, Lucas Escobar*, Felipe “Pipe” Vercellino) on the heralded U.S. Polo Assn. Field One. Forbes Plunkett maintained the lead for the majority of the match until BTA mounted their comeback in the second half to tie the score in the sixth chukker. In the game’s final moments, Nico Escobar made a nearside neckshot, scoring the game-winning goal with only seconds left on the clock.
Founded in 2005 in honor of Polo Hall of Famer Joe Barry, the Joe Barry Memorial serves as the first qualifying leg of four prestigious national tournaments (Ylvisaker Cup, Iglehart Cup, Outback Cup) culminating in the NPC 16-Goal Championship. This year’s competition was hosted and managed by Port Mayaca Polo Club (PMPC) in Okeechobee, Florida, with featured Sunday games played at NPC.
Coming into Sunday’s matchup, Forbes Plunkett had something to prove. “I knew it was going to be a tough final,” told Nico Escobar. “BTA is an amazing team. They beat us in the first game of this tournament, so we were coming in with an edge.” In the first round of the Joe Barry Memorial, BTA defeated Forbes Plunkett 8-6 at PMPC. “We really wanted to beat them this time.”
The Forbes Plunkett team has been building steady momentum since their Continental Cup win in early January. Team owner Brandon Plunkett has a decade-long history with the Escobar brothers. “It just feels really good that they get this and they continue to grow their careers,” told Plunkett. “I’m glad to be a part of it […] We’ve worked hard to build horses, to be better players and to build an organization.”
The teams matched each other from the penalty line in the first half with two conversions and a Penalty 1 automatic goal each. Forbes Plunkett propelled ahead however with three field goals from Nico Escobar. Doubled up on scoreboard 6-3 at the half, it was obvious the team in orange was determined not to suffer a similar fate to the previous matchup.
Returning for the second half with renewed energy, BTA was on a mission to mount a comeback. Outscoring their opponents in the fifth and sixth, BTA’s Viana secured three consecutive field goals for the team in blue to shorten Forbes Plunkett’s lead to one moving into the final chukker.
Taking advantage of two penalties in the beginning of the sixth, BTA catapulted into the lead for the first time. Viana converted a Penalty 2 to equalize the score followed by an automatic goal Penalty 1 to place them ahead of Forbes Plunkett. With a minute remaining, BTA’s Pieres received a double yellow card and was sent to the penalty box for two minutes and the remainder of the match.
Lucas Escobar converted the awarded Penalty 3, tying the score once again. As the clock wound down and with overtime on the horizon, Krueger attempted to clear the ball from the BTA goal with an open backshot which was blocked by Lucas Escobar. Older brother Nico Escobar managed to pick up possession and scored the tiebreaker and game-winning goal with a nearside neckshot to win it for Forbes Plunkett, 9-8. The crowd erupted into cheers at the thrilling conclusion, as Nico Escobar galloped to greet his fellow teammates to celebrate Forbes Plunkett’s second consecutive 16-goal victory.
“I started with the ball on the right side before midfield, was taking it down the field and I missed it,” explained Nico Escobar. “I was thinking to myself, ‘oh man, we’re going to go into overtime.’ Then Pipe [Vercellino] fought really hard to get that ball back and left it behind for me, I came back behind and I took it on the nearside.”
For Nico Escobar, clinching the game-winning goal was a culmination of months of dedication perfecting his polo game. “Scoring that final goal is probably all the hard work paying off that we put in during the offseason, riding the horses and getting ready,” explained Nico. The nearside neckshot also happens to be his favorite. “I practice that shot every day, so it paid off.”
Spectators applauded as Forbes Plunkett teammates congratulated each other with both loud shouts and sighs of relief. “We played tough the whole game, but they [BTA] played even tougher,” Nico Escobar said. “They were a really strong team. They’re a second-half team, they’re a comeback team. They always come back and they don’t stop fighting. My hat goes off to them.”
Most Valuable Player was awarded to Forbes Plunkett’s Felipe “Pipe” Vercellino. Señora Lunareja (Alazanas Medialuna x Alunado) was honored with the Best Playing Pony award. Played and owned by Alfonso Pieres, the 9-year-old chestnut mare was bred by Alex Garrahan. Pieres played Señora Lunareja at the beginning of the first and fourth chukkers, returning for a final appearance at the end of the sixth chukker.
Forbes Plunkett’s win on Sunday guarantees the team a spot in the NPC 16-Goal Championship semifinals in April. Sunday’s win marked the team’s fourth appearance on U.S. Polo Assn. Field One: in three of the four appearances, one of their team members has been awarded MVP. Plunkett knows their accolades reflect not only their skill but the group’s synergy and unwavering commitment to teamwork. “I play mostly medium goal, so this is kind of our [USPA] Gold Cup or U.S. Open [Polo Championship] 22-goal win. It feels that important for us—and we’re going to treat it like that! Now, let me go grab the champagne!”