LA CRESCENTA — Nothing came easy to the Crescenta Valley High boys' soccer team in its second-round playoff game against visiting Diamond Bar on Tuesday, except for the air of self-assuredness that comes with a 23-match unbeaten streak.
The Falcons didn't score until there were just 14 minutes left in the match, when Pavle Atanackovic put his fourth goal of the postseason away on a breakaway, but took solace in their plethora of chances over the first 66 minutes and relied on their rock-solid defense to ensure no further scoring would be necessary to advance to the CIF Southern Section Division IV quarterfinals after a 1-0 home win.
"We believed that we were going to win," said Atanackovic, who scored all three goals in the Falcons' 3-2 come-from-behind, sudden-death win over Laguna Beach on Thursday. "We played it with our hearts and we just kept pushing and pushing and pushing.
"We knew it was going to come."
Crescenta Valley (18-0-6) will now face either Salesian or Sierra Vista on the road in the quarters on Thursday.
Diamond Bar (11-10-2), which Crescenta Valley defeated, 3-2, in the first round of last year's playoffs, proved to be up to the task of keeping the Falcons' offense frustrated, although Crescenta Valley did come up empty on some solid opportunities.
The Falcons opened the game with a pair of good looks within the first minute when Michael Shahnazarians crossed a ball up to Atanackovic in the box that was broken up only to come back out to Erick Trejo for a 15-yard shot that was saved. It was a running theme for the Falcons in the first half, as they fired six shots on goal, but came up empty on each.
"Every time their goalie made a save, the anxiety level went up a little bit," Falcons Coach Grant Clark said, "but we felt like the chances we were getting were good looks and that eventually it's gonna come.
"You've just got to have a little faith sometimes."
The Falcons' faith was tested further in the second half when Atanackovic received a pass in the corner in the 42nd minute and one-touched it to Trejo on the elbow of the penalty box, but Trejo's shot ricocheted hard off the crossbar. To make matters a bit scarier for the Falcons, Diamond Bar continued to threaten in the second half, taking four shots on goal, including Will Lee's 20-yard shot on a two-on-two breakaway that was saved by Nick Ruiz (six saves) in the 51st minute.
Atanackovic began to get more involved in the offense in the second half, taking his first two shot attempts of the half on a header that bounced wide of the goal in the 52nd minute and then a short shot off a cross from Pablo Satillo that was saved three minutes later.
With 15 minutes left, Crescenta Valley really began knocking, as Trejo had a 15-yard blast field blocked only to have the rebound come back to him and his header attempt get deflected sharply upward and off the bar.
"When we came in at halftime it was more mental adjustments than tactical adjustments," Clark said. "Some guys were getting frustrated out there that things weren't happening right away and that's just soccer. You've got to be patient and wait for things to happen."
The wait was over a minute later when Satillo found Atanackovic upfield on a breakaway.
The reigning All-Area Boys' Soccer Player of the Year cut across the penalty box to his right with a defender on his back before tapping a rolling ground shot to the left that crept under the lunge of Diamond Bar's goalkeeper.
"The defender was kind of on me the whole time," Atanackovic said. "He was on my back, but I felt him, so I gave him a little nudge on the left side and got my space in."