LA CRESCENTA — Despite giving away an entire first half and giving up two quick goals early in the second half, the Crescenta Valley High girls' soccer team still found itself taking meaningful shots late in Friday's CIF Southern Section Division II first-round playoff game.
They were shots that could have prolonged the host Falcons' season, even if only for an overtime period, and the Falcons approached the task with appropriate urgency, but to no avail, as Long Beach Millikan escaped with a 2-1 upset.
"Last game of the season or it could be," Falcons Coach Jorden Schulz said, "you've got to play like it."
There was no doubt the Falcons (13-5-2) poured their all into the final 20 minutes of the match, during which Sierra Rhoads' goal with 11 minutes to play gave the Pacific League co-champions new hope, but the same couldn't be said for the preceding 60, according to Schulz.
"We did not play a good first half at all," Schulz said. "You tell them not to be cocky, but they come out and they play like they're supposed to win instead of playing to win and we gave them hope. When you give a team hope, they're going to take it."
Millikan (18-2-6), the third-place team from the Moore League, seemed emboldened by a first half in which it outshot Crescenta Valley, 13-2, and had several good scoring chances to essentially none for the Falcons. Jessi Magallon made six saves in the first half to keep the Rams off the scoreboard.
"Jessi kept us in the game in the first half for sure," Schulz said. "She's the only reason we were in the game."
Crescenta Valley came within inches of taking the lead less than a minute into the second half when Rhoads unleashed a shot across the mouth of the goal with the rebound going to Grace Keller, who poked it back into the goal, but just short of breaking the plane. The ball was pinballed around in the box for a few more anxious seconds before being cleared.
Millikan broke the scoreless tie in the 45th minute on a perfectly placed 40-yard free kick by Alex Karloswitch that grazed the leaping Magallon's fingertips before passing just under the crossbar.
Shortly after play resumed, Millikan won a ball in the midfield and pushed it up to Kayla Edwards, who got ahead of two defenders and buried a shot in the right corner of the net from 20 yards out.
"We talked [at halftime] about putting our chances away," said Rams Coach Tino Nunez, whose team had three free kick chances in the first half, two of which were saved by Magallon. "We couldn't let this game keep going 0-0.
"We said let's try to get one early. Luckily we were able to do that and then fed off of that one and were able to get another one."
The Falcons continued to languish until finding some momentum late that led to Rhoads halving the deficit in the 69th minute. With CV on the attack with numbers, Katie Callister crossed a ball from the middle of the field to Rhoads on the left for a beautiful shot chipped over Rams goalkeeper Olivia Bedard from 25 yards.
With seven minutes left, Dani Busta sent a free kick from the Rams' 10-yard line into the crowded box where it was headed out of bounds and Olivia Bird's corner kick four minutes later was headed high over the goal by Mallory Carcich. The Falcons had arguably their best look of the game inside the final minute of regulation when Rhoads took a pass from Bird near the left sideline from 20 yards out and had nothing but daylight in front of her to fire a bending shot that sailed over the crossbar by an inch.
"They put some pressure and sent some numbers up like you would think they would do, especially in a playoff game," Nunez said.
The Falcons continued an all-out assault on the Rams' defensive third over the several minutes of injury time that were allotted, but Millikan held firm and made the lead stand as several dejected Falcons slumped to the ground at the sound of the final whistle.
"They deserved to beat us based on the way we played in the first 60 minutes," Schulz said. "You can't push in the last 20 minutes when you're down."