WALNUT — The Crescenta Valley High girls' water polo team won half the battle in its CIF Southern Section Division V semifinal rematch with defending champion Temescal Canyon on Wednesday night, but lost a war, 9-7.
The Falcons would need to be solid on defense to give themselves a chance. Instead, they were brilliant, holding the Titans to two first-half goals, dictating a slower tempo that favored them greatly and creating plenty of offensive opportunities on steals and ejections.
The problem instead lay on offense, where the tenacity the Falcons showed on defense was too often replaced by timidity, poise turned to panic and ultimately a game passed from the Falcons' control straight to the Titans'.
"Everyone always says defense is the most important [thing], but once you get to that level of defense, you've got to put it away, too," Falcons attacker Stefanie Loporchio said. "You can't win a game just on defense."
The Falcons struggled most to score in the situation that would seem most conducive to doing so — the six-on-five advantage. They were four for 11 on power plays in the game, with the final line being helped out by some redemptive possessions in the fourth quarter, where the offense rebounded to score more goals, four, than it had in the rest of the game.
But how much different would a strong finish have been for CV if it had done so with a lead rather than trying to make up a deficit?
"If we had converted some of those early, I think we would have been in a little bit better situation in the third quarter," Crescenta Valley Coach Pete Loporchio said.
Added Stefanie Loporchio: "We were having difficulties on our six-on-five, putting the ball away. Our defense was phenomenal, but if we could have put those shots away ..."
The Falcons scored just three goals through the first three quarters. They held the Titans to the same total through the first 18:29, but were unable to counter Temescal Canyon's flurry of four unanswered tallies bridging the third and fourth periods.
But Crescenta Valley had its own chances to string together goals earlier in the match.
The second quarter was a microcosm of the overall disparity between offense and defense for the Falcons. It was the only quarter in which they shut out the Titans, yet they went just one for five on power plays, including two turnovers.
"Defensively, I thought we played pretty well for three quarters," Coach Loporchio said. "I think the big difference, and where we were rushing, was on six-on-five efficiency, being able to score on the man-outs, we just didn't do a very good job today. I think we were a little bit tentative. If you look at shooting percentage and efficiency and turnovers, I think that's the difference."
The Falcons also forced numerous turnovers in the first half, including eight steals, but often gave the ball right back to the Titans on an errant pass or fumble while trying to mount a counter-attack.
"We weren't really catching passes, but we know what we wanted to do," Falcons utility Sabrina Hatzer said. "We knew what to fix, but we just couldn't get there. We tried our hardest.
"The longer it's neck-and-neck, the more pressure it is on both teams. One of them has to step up and push the tempo a little bit. That's what made it difficult."
In the end it was Temescal Canyon stepping up first in the decisive third quarter, where once again five turnovers — none bigger than a steal that sparked Temescal Canyon to a tiebreaking counter-attack with 2:31 left — kept the Falcons from making good on a great defensive effort.
"It's just converting the six-on-fives, playing catch like our team motto," Breeana Lawton said of the two-word slogan, 'Play Catch' emblazoned on the T-shirt the team worn exiting the locker room. "It didn't follow through.
"It hurt for sure, it's a bummer."