MISSION HILLS — Come playoff time, a sluggish start often times leads to a bitter end.
For Crescenta Valley High's girls' soccer team, that was the tale that was told on Thursday.
Sunshine League champion Alemany tallied two first-half goals, including one in the sixth minute, and made it stick to eliminate the Falcons, 2-0, at Alemany High in the CIF Southern Section Division IV first round.
"You gotta play 80 minutes, you can't play 40," said Falcons Coach Tyraysha Peterson, whose team finished at 12-7 following a second-place Pacific League run.
Alemany's Caitlin Buckley scored in the sixth minute and Ashley Khacheryan put the host Warriors up, 2-0, in the 27th minute as the Falcons appeared lackluster and a step slow in comparison to past performances.
Alemany (8-5-8) controlled possession most of the first half, while Crescenta Valley, possessing an offense led by Rachel Bird and Brianna McReynolds that had been its most dynamic in quite some time, struggled to find itself.
"We were just a step late," Peterson said. "You can't be a reactive team in soccer. … When you play reactive, you spend the whole time chasing and that's what we did the whole first half."
Despite giving up two first-half goals, the defense, keyed by Lauren Cota and Natalia Victoria, did not play poorly, but the Falcons were unable to maintain possession on the other end.
The game also had plenty of fouls, chippy play and complaints from both sidelines and sides of the stands as it related to the officials. On top of that, the contest had a very stop-and-go feel with myriad corner kicks and throw-ins and a half-dozen injury stoppages for Alemany players.
"You can't let it affect you, it can't throw you off your game," Peterson said. "At the end of the day, you can't blame anyone else. Those goals are on us."
In its previous game, a 2-0 loss to archrival Arcadia in the regular-season finale on Feb. 11, the Falcons fell behind early, as well.
"You look at the Arcadia game, same thing: first half we were frantic, second half you hold it down," Peterson said.
Alemany took the lead when a Falcon missed the ball on a kick in front of the net and Buckley promptly converted the opportunity into a score.
A somewhat controversial goal gave Alemany a 2-0 lead.
With 13 minutes left in the first half, Khacheryan scored off a corner kick.
However, just after the corner was put into play, a whistle sounded. A shot followed and deflected to Khacheryan, who then scored.
The whistle seemed puzzling, at the least, as Falcons fans and coaches bellowed loudly.
Peterson asked the official for an explanation and he said the whistle was to inform the player that she was allowed to play the corner in, but the whistle clearly came with the ball already in play.
Nonetheless, the Falcons were likely fortunate just to trail by two goals as Alemany was awarded a penalty kick later in the half, but it clanged off the far post.
Despite struggling to maintain possession, the Falcons weren't without their chances.
Down, 1-0, McReynolds made an excellent run down the opposing sideline before somehow getting off a pass as she was tackled. Bird and the goalie seemed to arrive to the ball at the same time, but Bird was able to get off a shot that hit the side of the net.
Down, 2-0, Bird put a free kick on frame, right into the high, near corner that called for a leaping save from goalie Janay Varela, who had eight saves.
The second half was very much all Falcons, though Alemany was clearly content to play defense and bleed the clock, even drawing a yellow card for delaying the game.
Crescenta Valley outshot Alemany, 7-1, in the stanza, but they were all for naught. The teams tied with 14 shots apiece for the game.
Still, Bird free kicks were the majority of her team's best chances as Alemany bottled up the middle.
The best chance came, however, when Bird passed a ball up to Megan Robertson, who split a pair of defenders before unleashing a shot just left of the frame.
But on this Thursday, no goals were to be had for the Falcons, as the Warriors took advantage quickly and were able to hold on to send Crescenta Valley's season to its conclusion.