LA CRESCENTA — With a string of Pacific League titles hanging in the balance, quality scoring chances few and far between and archrival Arcadia holding strong, Crescenta Valley High's girls' soccer team's prospects were waning.
And then suddenly, two shots and one goal bestowed the Falcons a share of their fourth consecutive league crown as CV defeated Arcadia, 1-0, on Thursday afternoon at Crescenta Valley High.
"Everything," said Falcons senior captain Mallory Carcich, a four-year varsity starter, when asked what the victory meant. "It was so hard to think about not winning league after being here four years and having won it every year. It wasn't an option.
"I know it's co-champs, but that's better than not at all."
On the heels of a 1-0 loss at Arcadia in the rivals' initial meeting on Jan. 20 — coupled with the Falcons tying Burbank and the Apaches tying Pasadena, thereafter — the Falcons entered their annual rivalry finale needing no less than a win to earn a share of a fourth straight title and the Apaches (13-5-3, 11-1-2) needed no more than a tie to grab an outright championship.
But in the 66th minute, a great Carcich shot preceded an amazing Sierra Rhoads shot that sent the Falcons (13-4-2, 11-1-2) into a delirium that continued roughly 30 minutes later.
"I actually thought I had no chance," said Rhoads of the second-half score. "I was basically on the sideline [when I took it]. I'm still surprised I made it."
A free kick by Sarah Worden started the scoring sequence, with midfielder Whitley Boller, who was formidable in the air all game and proved so once more, heading a ball to Carcich. Carcich took a touch, set and fired a blistering shot from the center of the field from just more than 10 yards out. It was far and away the best opportunity by either team to that point, but it was saved by a spectacular bid from Arcadia goalie Adrianna Maldonado.
"Yeah, I was really sad when the goalie blocked it," Carcich said, "but I was really happy Sierra was there."
Maldonado made a phenomenal dive to her right that blocked the low, hard shot destined for the inside of the left post, but Rhoads sprinted onto the scene. From the left side, only a few inches from being on line with the goalline, Rhoads let loose on a lining, left-footed shot that found the back of the net.
"Credit to [Rhoads]," Arcadia Coach Ryen Piszyk said. "It was a weird angle and, honestly, it looked like she had six inches to work with and she put it in that window."
With a lengthy delay after Falcons forward Claudia Sepulveda went down with a knee injury and a frantic spot in which Arcadia got off two up-close shots that were both saved by CV keeper Jessi Magallon, who had four total saves, down the stretch, the last 14 minutes took a long time — literally and figuratively — before the Falcons could finally celebrate.
"It was scary, but I have confidence in [Magallon] and our backline," said Carcich, who also missed some time due to an injury after the goal, but returned on defense to help with the Falcons' final stand.
And the ending — shared title or not — was worth the wait.
"It feels fantastic," said Falcons Coach Jorden Schulz, whose team awaits Monday's CIF bracket releases for next week's postseason. "I don't like sharing it, but they beat us by a goal, we beat them by a goal, so it's pretty even, I give [Arcadia] credit.
"I'm really happy we came out and played hard and beat them at home."
There was no doubting the Falcons' effort from the start, but in a game in which both teams combined for just 19 shots, and solid chances were hard to find, Crescenta Valley was off in its passing game most of the match. Arcadia, seemingly realizing it needed only a tie to win the title outright, looked to be playing a lot smarter and safer style than the first game, in which both teams engaged in a physical donnybrook that went back and forth.
"[We] definitely [played] a lot smarter," Piszyk said.
As for CV, it played with a lot of adrenaline, which both Schulz and Carcich credited in the Falcons not playing at their best.
Arcadia also flooded the midfield, while the Falcons went with a more offensive approach, running a 3-4-2-1 set, with Carcich playing in the midfield.
"Oh yeah, we had to go all out," Schulz said.
Still, the defense held strong throughout, led by Dani Busta and Rhoads in the first half and Busta and Worden in the second half.
Schulz made the decision at halftime to put Rhoads up top and Worden in the back — a move that's been made many times this season — and it paid off with a championship goal.
"I just felt more motivated [at halftime]," Rhoads said. "I had to go all out."