Crescenta Valley water polo locks down Pasadena

LA CRESCENTA — Overwhelming defense was enough to obscure an underwhelming offensive effort from the Crescenta Valley High boys’ water polo team on Thursday in a 13-5 home victory over Pasadena that put the Falcons in good shape for a high league tournament seed and put the Bulldogs’ playoff fate in some doubt.

“This was a must-win for us, as it was for them,” said Crescenta Valley Coach Jan Sakonju, whose team improved to 10-13 and 3-2 in league, where it is assured no worse than a second-place tie with Burbank in the regular season, provided it can beat archrival Arcadia on Wednesday.

Crescenta Valley, which is ranked seventh in CIF Southern Section Division V, got an outstanding defensive effort led by goalkeeper Robert Menke, who finished with 15 saves and anchored a first-half shutout.

“That’s definitely not a recipe for success and it wasn’t today,” Pasadena Coach Neil Esser said of his team’s failure to score until the 5:52 mark of the third quarter, by which time it already trailed, 7-0. “[The Falcons] are a very fast team at every position and they were literally in the passing lanes and the driving lanes. We’ve got some speed, but not like that. They were where we wanted to pass.”

The Falcons notched seven steals and Menke stopped seven Pasadena shots on goal in the first half, including a five-meter attempt and two six-on-five man-advantage shots, but the Falcons only held a 5-0 lead at the half, with Brian Dertli contributing two goals en route to an eventual game-high five.

“Part of it is when we have too many options, we get confused, because [the Bulldogs] were sloughing from everywhere,” said Sakonju, whose team added two goals to its run of unanswered tallies on back-to-back scores by Antonio Camarillo early in the third period. “But we’ve also been trying to be more patient on offense because a lot of times we would rush our offense, rush our shots or throw it into the hole/set when they’re running a zone defense, which Pasadena was doing, so I like that they actually did take a moment to try to identify where people were dropping. But we weren’t putting it away as much as we consistently could have.”

Pasadena got on the board in the third with a Matthew Klein shot that took a quirky bounce into the cage after being deflected by Menke, but saw the Falcons stretch out the lead on goals from the perimeter from Daniel Park and Omar Trad to go up, 9-1, with 3:58 to play.

But Sakonju was far from pleased when Marcus Gonzalez scored Pasadena’s second goal of the match with 1:14 left in the third, as he pulled all but two of his starters for the rest of the period.

“The third quarter was their worst quarter, they just weren’t working as a team,” Sakonju said. “At this point in the season, we have to be able to do that.

“Robbie was in the zone and was able to make a lot of key saves to help us keep the momentum.”

Crescenta Valley was able to finish strong, though, getting three fourth-quarter goals from Dertli, including a pair of five-meter shots. James Porcell closed out the scoring for Crescenta Valley with 44 seconds to play.

“I was feeling good today and our team helped me out on defense,” Menke said. “We had to keep up our defense [in the second half] and we had to focus on our offense more than we did [in the first half] to keep scoring.

“This game was real important to us. We knew we had to do well because we want to do well in CIF and we have to get to CIF. This is just one step to get there.”

Pasadena (2-3 in league) must now beat Burroughs (2-2 in league) in its final league match on Wednesday to stay in the top four in league.

“If we don’t take care of business there, then there goes the season,” Esser said. “And even if we win that game, we’re not assured of anything.”

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