BURBANK — When Pasadena High beat Glendale in the first semifinal matchup of Tuesday's Pacific League Girls' Water Polo Tournament, all Crescenta Valley had to do to clinch the outright league championship was get past Burbank in the second semifinal of the evening.
As it turned out, there was nothing easy about the Falcons' route to their second title in a row, as the host Bulldogs literally took the match down to the last shot and made the Falcons work as hard as they've had to for a league win this season in a 10-9 victory.
"I give them a lot of credit, they played hard, inspired [water polo] and created some matchup problems for us," said Falcons Coach Pete Loporchio, whose team (24-3, 7-0 in league) will still have enough points to claim the league title outright by virtue of its regular-season sweep of league, even if it should lose to Pasadena in the tournament final at 6 p.m. Thursday at Burbank. "We just told the girls we're in a position where everybody is gunning for you so you've got to be ready to play."
Christine Cho scored the Falcons' final goal of the match on a deep perimeter shot with 2:23 left in the fourth period to provide a crucial two-goal lead at 10-8. But the Bulldogs' defense held strong from there.
Janna Ayvazyan brought Burbank (19-7, 3-4) within 10-9 on a rebound of Jordan Card's miss with 52 seconds left, setting up a dramatic final pair of possessions to close the game. Burbank made yet another defensive stand under pressure, as goalkeeper Sarah Tubert notched her 11th save of the match on an outside attempt by Breanna Lawton with 18 seconds left.
In the end, it was Crescenta Valley's defense that won the game, though, holding the Bulldogs without a shot on their final possession, on which they played a quick pass into the set and even drew a foul, but could never find an opening in the coverage.
"Coming into this game, we wanted to get into the early offense before they could drop, because we knew they were going to drop down on our hole/set, so we wanted to get up in the fast break and get those one-on-one opportunities," said Burbank Coach Carlos Pelayo, whose team will play Glendale for third place at 5 p.m. Thursday. "I had a time out [on the final possession], but we had the opportunities there. Just credit to the girls, they kept fighting and they kept going after it."
Crescenta Valley, the third-ranked team in CIF Southern Section Division V, never trailed, but it also never shook the pesky Bulldogs, and its biggest lead was three goals, which it enjoyed on two occasions.
Kim Fraisse gave the Falcons a 4-1 lead at the 3:51 mark of the second quarter by swimming nearly the length of the pool on a counter of a missed Burbank six-on-five attempt, slamming a goal home.
But the Bulldogs came roaring back on an outside shot by Nichole Valencia and a breakaway counter by Abigail Glaussner, who slipped a shot under the reach of Crescenta Valley goalkeeper Shelby Gregg to make it 4-3 at the 1:12 mark.
The Falcons caught a break when Tubert bobbled a rebound of a Lawton attempt into the Bulldogs' goal with 43 seconds left, or else it might have been a tie game at halftime after Card (three goals) closed the first-half, scoring with a skipped five-meter shot in the last second.
Crescenta Valley got its lead back up to 9-6 with just over a minute gone by in the fourth on a Sabrina Hatzer tally, but again Burbank answered with two more goals from Danielle Reid on a high lob at the 3:48 mark and a deep straightaway score from Natalie Pentkowski with 2:51 to go to make it 9-8.
"Anytime you're trying to upset a team like that, you've got to keep it close, you have to play defense and then try to steal it at the end," Pelayo said. "We at least had the opportunity to try and send it into overtime, but the girls played very well."