Forbes Plunkett Bests BTA In Joe Barry Memorial Final At NPC

2024 Joe Barry Memorial Champions — Lucas Escobar, Felipe Pipe Vercellino, Nicolas Nico Escobar and Brandon Plunkett of Forbes Plunkett. Photo by David Lominska

The first tournament of the NPC 16-Goal Championship, the Joe Barry Memorial, concluded Sunday, Jan. 28 at the National Polo Center (NPC) in Wellington.

Meeting for the second time in the tournament, BTA (Ignacio “Nachi” Viana, Steve Krueger, Alfonso Pieres and Kelly Beal) looked to defeat Forbes Plunkett (Brandon Plunkett, Nicolas “Nico” Escobar, Lucas Escobar and Felipe “Pipe” Vercellino) on U.S. Polo Assn. Field One. Forbes Plunkett maintained the lead for the majority of the match until BTA mounted a comeback in the second half to tie the score in the sixth. In the game’s final moments, Nico Escobar made a nearside neckshot, scoring the game-winning goal for Forbes Plunkett with only seconds left.

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 culminating in the NPC 16-Goal Championship. Coming into Sunday’s matchup, Forbes Plunkett had something to prove. In the first round of the Joe Barry Memorial, BTA defeated Forbes Plunkett 8-6.

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.

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 that the team in orange was determined not to suffer a similar fate as 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 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,” Nico Escobar explained. “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 off-season, riding the horses and getting ready,” he explained, adding that the nearside neckshot also happens to be his favorite. “I practice that shot every day, so it paid off.”

Most Valuable Player was awarded to Forbes Plunkett’s Felipe “Pipe” Vercellino. Señora Lunareja 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 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 the 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,” he said.