WALNUT — While the Crescenta Valley High girls' water polo team's opponent on Wednesday night, Temescal Canyon, proved itself every bit worthy of its No. 2 seed and the finals berth it now owns in the CIF Southern Section Division V playoffs, one couldn't help but get the feeling that the Titans may have been saved by the buzzer.
So sudden and furious was the rally the third-seeded Falcons staged in the fourth quarter of their 10-9 loss in the quarterfinals at Mount San Antonio College that Temescal Canyon hardly resembled the same team that a quarter earlier seemed a goal or two from achieving a blowout, as the Titans scrambled down the stretch to keep their lead from dwindling away completely.
"We definitely thought that if we just had a few more moments, we could have had them," said Falcons utility Kim Fraisse, who led her team with six goals.
Crescenta Valley (23-4) didn't score in the second quarter and saw Temescal Canyon (23-5) push its three-goal halftime lead as high as 7-2 early in the third.
It was near the midpoint of the third quarter that the Falcons began to get off the mat, as Fraisse scored twice, first on a mid-range skip shot at the 4:06 mark, followed by five-meter shot with 3:12 to go.
But Temescal Canyon still led by four goals going into the fourth after Lauren Thatcher, who led the Titans with six goals, got by Adrienne Ingalla and goalkeeper Shelby Gregg, who left the cage to challenge, on a counter and sank an uncontested shot.
"Any time at this stage of the playoffs you can get up by three or four goals, that's big because it's hard to overcome," Temescal Canyon Coach Damien Andrews said. "They made a great run, but having that cushion really helped."
And the Titans would certainly need all of that cushion. After the teams traded goals to open the fourth period, Crescenta Valley held Temescal Canyon scoreless for a span of 4:24.
"Our defense definitely picked up in the second half," said Gregg, who played the second half in goal. "I think it helps when we start making that comeback, everybody starts getting fierce."
At the 6:00 mark, Fraisse found enough daylight on a reset to get a shot off and brought the team back within three goals. On their next possession, the Falcons went to Sabrina Hatzer, whose long attempt was field blocked, which actually helped change the angle of the shot and get the ball past goalkeeper Lina Medeiros (nine saves) to cut the lead to 9-7 with 5:11 to go.
With 3:40 to go, the Falcons dodged a bullet when Temescal Canyon had numbers on a counter, but came up empty when Sammi Murphy's attempt hit the cage.
"[We had to] play good defense, we knew we needed to hold on," Andrews said. "We wanted to slow it down.
"I thought we got a little ahead of ourselves there and made some poor decisions with the ball on offense that ended up costing us."
Persistence on the offensive end continued to pay off for the Falcons, as they had looks by Breanna Lawton and Shannon Hovanesian blocked out of bounds, but were able to score on a third-chance attempt by Christine Cho with 2:28 left to bring the score to 9-8.
But on the ensuing possession, the Titans finally caught a break and ended their scoring drought on a Thatcher shot that deflected off the crossbar, downward and in for a 10-8 cushion with 1:49 left.
"You're up by two with two and a half minutes to go, you don't need to score to win anymore, you just need to play great defense," Andrews said.
Lawton's deep attempt that was saved with 1:00 to go was effectively the Falcons' last chance, as the Titans burned clock on their next possession, rendering Fraisse's last goal, scored while charging through three defenders to score with eight seconds left, moot.
"It was a little too much of a lead we gave them and then trying to battle back," Falcons Coach Pete Loporchio said. "I give [the Falcons] credit, they never quit until the last second."
Crescenta Valley looked shaky on offense early in the game, with passes sailing high and others being fumbled, as Temescal Canyon's physical pressure took its toll.
Still, the Falcons' defense came up with 10 steals in the first half and they held a 4-0 shot advantage over the first 3:00 of the second quarter and an 11-4 advantage for the first 10 minutes of the match, at which point the score was tied at 2.
Temescal Canyon scored two quick goals on counter-attacks late in the second half to get its first real separation of the game.
"We're always looking to force turnovers and get up on the counter-attack, that's what we want to do," Andrews said.
Thatcher scored twice in the first three minutes of the third quarter to put the Titans up by five.
"They didn't fold, they kept battling and battling," Loporchio said of his team. "We needed a couple breaks to go our way. …I can't say enough about how they battled back, it just got away a little bit in the middle of the game and then we couldn't finish there.
"We attempted to finish, we just ran out of time, I think."