Crescenta Valley High boys' water polo succumbs to No. 1 Pasadena Poly

PASADENA — While the annual nonleague rivalry between the Crescenta Valley High’s boys’ water polo team and Pasadena Poly has tilted in favor of the Panthers in recent seasons, the Falcons have still been able to gauge where they stand in CIF Southern Section Division V thanks to the matchup.

On Tuesday afternoon at Pasadena City College, the Falcons, ranked seventh in the division, hung tough with the top-ranked Panthers, inevitably falling, 8-5, against the defending division champions.

“I feel pretty good because they were down in this game and they’re being proactive and focusing on fixing things,” said Falcons Coach Jan Sakonju of where his 3-3 squad stands. “There’s a lot of smart guys on this team. ... There’s a lot of guys who see what needs to happen and that makes me very happy.”

Poly (3-1), which defeated Glendale in last year’s title match, led from the outset and used a crucial three-goal run to widen its lead to 5-2 early in the third quarter and give it the breathing room it needed.

“It’s a great, competitive rivalry,” Panthers Coach Ryan Katsuyama said. “It’s always been a very competitive game. A lot of the kids play club together and know each other, so it’s a good friendly rivalry. I just love that kind of competition.”

Offense came slowly for CV on Tuesday, as the Falcons were held scoreless over the first 9 minutes 22 seconds until Nate Fernandez scored off a Griffin Harting assist to knot the game at 1 in the second quarter.

Another Fernandez score off an Omar Trad assist with 3:19 to play in the half tied the game again at 2, but Poly scored twice in the last 1:07 of the half. The scoring surge, though not an overwhelming one, proved pivotal.

The first score was an Omar Dairi tally off a steal and a breakaway with 1:07 to go that put the Panthers back on top, 3-2, and the second came on a Dennis Grover straightaway shot from the perimeter with only two second remaining in the half.

“Their goalie was looking the other way for a second and Dennis saw it,” Katsuyama said. “That’s the great thing about Dennis, he looks for things like that.”

Poly’s third consecutive goal came 57 seconds into the second half for a 5-2 lead.

In contrast, the Falcons were never able to string together consecutive tallies.

“Unless we’ve had big-time momentum, against the good teams, we’ve struggled not to exchange goals,” Sakonju said.

Trad, who matched Fernandez with a team-high two goals, scored a man-advantage tally with 5:09 to go in the third to cut the lead to 5-3, but Poly scored the next two goals to put the match away essentially.

It was the only man-advantage score for the Falcons, who went one for seven on the day in that department. In addition, they had myriad shots hit the post or the crossbar and others that were straight at Poly goalie Josh Ball, who finished with eight saves, as the Falcons were unable to cash in the majority of their chances.

“We have to definitely polish that up,” said Sakonju, who received 10 saves from goalie George Vine IV.

Still, Sakonju credited the biggest factor to the presence of Poly senior Spencer Rogers, the reigning division MVP.

“Difference-maker was Spencer Rogers,” said Sakonju, who also got a score from Harting. “He’s a legit scorer.”

CV limited Rogers to two goals, as the Panthers got a pair of tallies from three players and one each from two more, but dropped down on him continuously.

Sakonju and Co. will take on another nonleague rival in their next match, Sept. 26 at PCC against Rio Mesa.

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