Lucchese on Top Again

At least half of the crowd that was taking sides during the Bombardier Pacific Coast Open polo final took the pink hat over the blue hat.

The pink hat — a helmet, actually — was worn by Melissa Ganzi, the playing sponsor of the Piaget team. Adolfo Cambiaso of the Lucchese team wore a helmet in the same sky-blue hue as the flag of his country, Argentina.

Lucchese and Cambiaso, who is regarded as the best player in the world, were favored to win the most prestigious polo tournament on the West Coast for the second consecutive year, and they did just that Sunday by an 11-9 score at the Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club.

But Ganzi and crew won a lot of fans with their spirited play. They took a 3-0 lead in the first chukker, and after Lucchese went on a spree of five consecutive goals, Piaget fought back to tie the score, 7-7, at halftime.

Ganzi scored her third goal to put Piaget ahead, 8-7, in the fourth chukker. Cambiaso tied it by knocking the ball out of a crowd through the goal posts, and Jeff Blake’s penalty shot gave Lucchese a 9-8 lead. In the fifth chukker, Piaget’s Jason Crowder tied it up again, but Cambiaso pounded a 60-yard penalty shot to make it 10-9 entering the final chukker.

The outcome was in doubt during the tense final minutes until Blake cleared a ball along the boards, and Julio Gracida took it in for the clinching goal with 13 seconds on the clock. Lucchese is the first team to win back-to-back PCO titles since Duende in 2005-06.

“It was a good battle with a bad ending,” said Crowder. “It was a very fair, friendly game.” Crowder, a 28-year-old Carpinteria native who was on the winning Lucchese team last year, was awarded the Robert Skene Trophy for outstanding play and sportsmanship throughout the tournament. One of his sporting gestures was to reveal that one of the goals that the announcer credited to him actually came off the mallet of Ganzi.

“It was thrilling to be in the final,” said Ganzi, whose three-goal performance must be one of the best by a female player in a high-goal polo championship. “It was good fun, a clean game.”

Piaget also had the Best-Playing Pony of the tournament, Miguel Astrada’s chestnut gelding Chalanco. Astrada scored four goals Sunday.

Cambiaso scored five goals and was named the MVP of the match. The 36-year-old Argentine, ever the perfectionist, was not all that happy. He wanted his team to dominate, but Piaget, with Juan Bollini playing strong defense, had other ideas. “We just won,” Cambiaso said. “I like to win different. We can play better.”

John Muse, Lucchese’s sponsor, will take it. Unlike last year, when Lucchese swept all three high-goal tournaments in Santa Barbara, the team was beaten in two previous finals by ERG and Grant’s Farm.

“This is the one we’ve been pointing for,” Muse said of the century-old Pacific Coast trophy. He had a soft spot for Ganzi’s defeated team. “I kinda feel bad for them,” Muse said. “They played well.”

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