WALNUT — With its season and a shot at a championship on the line, the Crescenta Valley High girls' water polo team faced off with a bully on Wednesday night.
What made Temescal Canyon so intimidating wasn't dirty play or cheap shots, but rather simply an unapologetic physicality, an agenda of aggression that in Wednesday's CIF Southern Section Division V quarterfinal match at Mount San Antonio College manifested itself in suffocating defense and steady two-meter offense.
The Falcons lost, 10-9, but by rallying from a five-goal deficit against a Titans team that kicked sand in their face and looked poised to grind Crescenta Valley into an early retreat, made a statement on their way out the door – they won't be pushed around without a fight.
Crescenta Valley expected a physical match and got just that from the beginning, even as the match remained tied until midway through the second quarter.
"They were probably more physical than most teams we've played before," Crescenta Valley utility Kim Fraisse said.
Added teammate Adrienne Ingalla: "It was brutal. I got beat up a couple of times."
The beating began to translate to the scoreboard when Temescal Canyon took its biggest lead of the game, 7-2, early in the third quarter.
"I think they were just determined to get back in the game and that's been the trademark of this team," Falcons Coach Pete Loporchio said.
And it was Fraisse, the school's single-season scoring record-holder, who has become the face of the program over the last couple of years, leading the charge back when it looked like the Falcons were about to take one on the chin.
"We just thought about it during halftime and we were like, we have to come back, and go as hard as we can and not give up," said Fraisse, who finished with six goals. "We did our best and coming back up that much was very good for us."
After scoring on a man-advantage to bring Crescenta Valley back within four, Fraisse drew an ejection and a five-meter shot with 3:12 left in the third. She was blocked by Titans goalie Lina Medeiros, who had an excellent game with nine saves, but Fraisse relentlessly pursued the rebound, outhustling the pair of Titans that flanked her at the five-meter mark to secure the ball and draw another ejection and five-meter in the process.
She buried that one to give the Falcons their first shot of momentum of the second half.
"I think, in this game, she established herself as one of the best players in this division," Loporchio said.
The push continued in the fourth quarter when the Falcons' defense kept the Titans scoreless for over four minutes and succeeded in knocking the unflappable Titans back on their heels a bit.
"It's really tough to play against a team that's aggressive like that," Falcons goalkeeper Shelby Gregg said, "but when we start getting our esteem back up, then we can really fight back."
When Christine Cho beat Medeiros with a shot into the upper left corner with 1:49 left for the Falcons' third unanswered goal, Crescenta Valley's hopes of a comeback were very much alive. But even when they were dashed moments later by Lauren Thatcher's clinching goal, the Falcons' heads remained held high.
"It's just an attribute to how deep and effective our team is," Ingalla said. "We were down by I don't even know how many goals, but the fact that we could push the tempo and get back in the game, that we're not willing to give up, that's what got us to a one-goal spread.
"We kept trying and that's what kept us in the game."