Burroughs makes Falcons fight for title

BURBANK — If the members of the Crescenta Valley High girls' water polo team expected the Pacific League tournament championship game on Thursday to be another easy win over Burroughs, they were dead wrong.

That much was evident by the end of the first quarter, which Burroughs dominated, and by the time the fourth quarter rolled around with Crescenta Valley still trailing by a goal, the Falcons were very much in a fight to keep the Indians' hands off of their league title.

"Certainly, being in that position, they came out very inspired to play," Falcons Coach Pete Loporchio said.

Crescenta Valley dominated Burroughs and won by 12 goals in the teams' first meeting on Jan. 26, but this time didn't take its first lead in the match until Sabrina Hatzer's steal and breakaway score with 2:45 left in the fourth. It was a lead that would last, though, as the Falcons overcame a determined Burroughs squad to win, 8-6, and finish the season undefeated and league champions outright for the third year in row.

"Coach always tells us that we have to go somewhere deep down and just dig through it and it was a team effort," said Falcons attacker Katie Benson, whose three goals, two coming in the fourth quarter, led the team. "You don't know what you're doing while you're doing it, but you just do it."

Crescenta Valley (29-0, 8-0 in league) had battled back to pull even for the first time with 10 seconds left in the third quarter, 3-3, on a Benson shot that was partially field blocked, deflecting up and over Burroughs goalkeeper Ahsha Earwood (11 saves). But Savannah Simmons answered right back for Burroughs (19-4, 6-2) with a cannon shot from nearly all the way across the pool that caught the Falcons off-guard and sent the Indians to the fourth quarter still leading.

Nayiri Kechichian opened scoring in the fourth quarter, tying the game for Crescenta Valley on a shot from the left side on a counter-attack, but Sam Buliavac, who led all scorers with four goals, dropped a rainbow shot over Gabriel Isacson into the left corner of the cage from deep on the perimeter to give the Indians a 5-4 lead again with 4:42 to play.

Then the Falcons finally strung some goals together, with Stefanie Loporchio, Hatzer and Benson all scoring in succession from the 3:13 mark to the 2:34 mark to give CV a 7-5 lead. Simmons kept the Indians' hopes alive with yet another long bomb from more than halfway across the pool to narrow the gap to 7-6 at the 2:18 mark, but Benson cleaned up an offensive rebound near the cage for an easy goal with 1:35 left.

"We were kind of swapping back and forth in this game, we've never been put in this situation," Burroughs Coach Danny Garcia said. "It's something to look forward to. I hope we see them again [in the playoffs] actually, I really, really do."

Burroughs opened the match with intensity, while the Falcons looked tentative and the result was a quick 3-0 lead in the first four minutes on two goals from Buliavac and one from Simmons. Elissa Arnold scored the Falcons' first goal on an assist from Breanna Lawton with 2:21 to play in the quarter, but Crescenta Valley's normally solid offense was clearly out of sorts.

Shannon Hovanesian got a steal and got out in front on a breakaway and into a one-on-one with Earwood only to hit the post to open a second quarter that saw the Falcons fire six shots off the crossbar or a post. The Falcons' only shot on goal during the scoreless second period was saved amid a man-advantage.

"I give them a lot of credit in terms of creating some zone matchups and their goalie play was excellent," Loporchio said.

But as Crescenta Valley's offense was floundering, Burroughs' was drying up completely. The Indians got just one shot on goal and couldn't extend their first-quarter lead at all.

"We ran through a little bit of a dry patch," Garcia said. "We started doing the back-and-forth game and we're not used to the back-and-forth game, so my players were getting a little tired and with a small bench, we couldn't really sub. We stopped them on the defensive end, but it's just hard to get back on the offensive end and try to create something when you're already kind of winded."

Crescenta Valley continued to keep Burroughs off the scoreboard until Simmons' full court shot in the waning seconds.

"We've always been really strong on defense and we always push each other in practice," Benson said. "Our defense really did help us. There's those game where you just don't score, it happens."

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