LA MIRADA — Maybe it was the excitement of playing the defending divisional champions or perhaps it was the thrill of being in the postseason.
For whatever reason, the Crescenta Valley High boys' water polo team mounted arguably its best effort of the season and nearly notched a major upset before falling to host La Serna, 11-8, in Wednesday afternoon's CIF Southern Section Division V first-round game at Splash Aquatics Center.
The defeat capped the Falcons' final record at 10-19.
"We said on the bus that in two hours our season could be over. We couldn't think about a 'next game' because each game could very well be our last," Falcons Coach Jan Sakonju said. "I told the guys to go for it and leave no regrets and they did exactly that."
The Del Rio League-champion Lancers (16-14) throttled the Falcons, the Pacific League's third seed, in the teams' previous meeting, 17-4, on Oct. 19.
So, it was a bit surprising La Serna only led 8-5 entering the fourth and quickly had that lead sliced to two on a goal from junior Antonio Camarillo off an assist from senior Yusef Trad with 5:58 remaining.
La Serna, however, quickly responded, scoring 10 seconds later when senior Oliver Carter netted a close-range score set up on a pass from Mitchel Embrey that was preceded by a Falcons' ejection.
Two minutes later, the Lancers extended their advantage to 10-6 when La Serna's Grant Marcy picked off an errant pass at mid-pool and led a two-on-one-break with teammate Anthony Oliveira that led to a score from Oliveira with 3:07 remaining.
"To be honest, we didn't do many things right today," La Serna Coach Jeff Padgett said, "but, we did get some key steals at the end that helped prevent a loss."
Camarillo brought Crescenta Valley within three with 1:56 left when he one-timed a pass from Trad off his fingertips passed Lancers goalie Ben Goncharenko.
Yet, on the Falcons' next offensive possession, Oliveira stole a pass from goalie Manny Martinez at mid-pool and fed a streaking Matthew Skinas for a breakaway goal to push the Lancers back ahead by four at 11-7.
Trad scored the Falcons' final goal with 46.7 seconds remaining.
"The first time we played La Serna, we let them push us around," Martinez said. "This time, we wanted it more and played great. We just didn't get the win."
Martinez was the main reason the Falcons led throughout most of the first half, as the senior tallied 14 saves overall.
Martinez stopped three shots in the second quarter, including when he stuffed Embrey with 1:03 left on a six-on-five opportunity.
Overall, Crescenta Valley won the second quarter, 2-1, in forging a tie at 3 going into the half.
After the break, the Falcons took the lead when Camarillo scored off an assist from Leo Rostamian with 4:10 left in the third quarter.
The goal was followed by a Falcons defensive stop that came moments before a turn-around goal from Trad with 3:57 left that gave Crescenta Valley its largest lead, 5-3.
The good times did not last, however, as La Serna awoke from its haze and netted five goals over the final 3:34 of the third to surge ahead 8-5.
Camarillo led Crescenta Valley with four goals, while Trad added three goals and Jonny Malmrose scored a goal.
Carter led La Serna with four goals, while Embrey added three scores and Goncharenko tallied 11 saves.
La Serna advances to Saturday's home quarterfinal against Pacific League-champion Glendale (22-7).