LA CRESCENTA — The Crescenta Valley High girls' water polo team picked up Pacific League play right where it left off last year, getting all it could handle from a feisty Pasadena squad.
After pulling away in the fourth quarter to close out last year's league championship with a four-goal victory over the Bulldogs in the league tournament finale, the Falcons drew a rematch in their league opener at home on Wednesday and were faced with an even tougher challenge, narrowly escaping with an 8-7 win.
"We told the girls everyone will be gunning for you, so you've got to respect everyone you come across," said Falcons Coach Pete Loporchio, whose team (13-2) is ranked fourth in CIF Southern Section Division V. "[The Bulldogs] bring out the best in both teams in terms of that rivalry. …They come ready to play."
Christine Cho led the Falcons with two goals, including the go-ahead tally with 5:36 remaining in the fourth quarter, and Stefanie Loporchio's insurance goal with 2:45 to go proved to be huge when Samantha Thompson scored with 1:14 left to pull Pasadena back within one goal.
Thompson's late tally was the only goal allowed by the Falcons in the fourth quarter, as defense saved Crescenta Valley on an afternoon when its offense struggled against the Bulldogs' own aggressive defense and the play in goal of keeper Alegra Hueso, who finished with 14 saves.
"Our defense in the fourth quarter was basically to protect the ball and make sure they didn't have an opportunity to shoot on us," Cho said. "We tried to split [their players] up as far as we could so they have to swim around and try to get the ball."
Pasadena took an early 1-0 lead on a goal by Amanda Pike and Hueso took over from there, notching five saves in the opening period. Kim Fraisse was finally able to get the Falcons on the board with an open shot on a 6-5 advantage with 1:04 to go, but Tori Tripoli, who led Pasadena with three goals, scored with 46 seconds left to put the Bulldogs up, 2-1, heading into the second period.
Whereas the Falcons were unsuccessfully trying to shoot through Hueso in the middle of the cage in the first period, their shots thereafter were mostly directed to the corners. But six Crescenta Valley shots clanged off the crossbar or posts in the second and third quarters, as the Falcons continued to struggle from the field.
"You've got to beat [Hueso] by moving the ball quickly, cross passing and [getting] a quick shot and you've got to stay up on your legs," Coach Loporchio said. "She's a very good goalie. You've got to beat her. We tell our girls you've got to be a shooter not a thrower."
Crescenta Valley only converted on two of its six man-advantage opportunities during the first three quarters, including two such empty trips on consecutive possessions in the third. But, after beginning the second half in 5-5 tie, the Falcons were only down by a goal despite not scoring for over six minutes of the third.
Cho tied the game at 6 with a long-range shot with 52 seconds left in the third and Fraisse found Cho near the cage after rebounding her own miss during a 6-5 advantage for the go-ahead score early in the fourth.
The Falcons hadn't played since Dec. 22 due to the holiday break and the postponement of their Jan. 5 league opener against Hoover.
"We kind of lagged in the beginning," Cho said, "but at the end we came back up."