Crescenta Valley water polo relies on defense to take down La Serna

WHITTIER — Two steps through one of the more challenging weeks of the season and the Crescenta Valley High boys’ water polo team has yet to play its best ball.

That’s at least what Falcons Coach Jan Sakonju said and perhaps that’s a scary prospect, as the Falcons dominated several facets of their game at host La Serna en route to a 12-8 victory in Whittier.

“Defense has been the key for us the last couple of days and has really been there when we’ve struggled on offense,” Sakonju said. “Today, we had some slow spots, but we focused much of our defense effort around [La Serna sophomore driver George] Mooney and were able to keep them to two goals a quarter.”

A day after the CIF Southern Section Division V sixth-ranked Falcons (9-6) survived a bumpy showing versus host Hoover, 8-6, and 24 hours before the squad is set to host top-ranked Glendale (12-6) at Pasadena City College on Thursday at 4:30 p.m., Crescenta Valley ran into a talented pair in the Lancers’ Mooney, a driver, and senior goalie Ben Goncharenko.

Mooney, who returned to the fourth-ranked Lancers (10-14) last week for the first time this season after recovering from a viral infection, scored all of his team’s goals in a first half in which the Falcons led, 5-4.

In the third quarter, though, the Falcons created some separation by scoring on three consecutive possessions in taking an 8-4 lead.

The Falcons’ Ryan Moguel started the scoring streak when he buried a four-yard shot, assisted by Trevor Goddard, top shelf to give Crescenta Valley a 6-4 lead with 4:49 remaining in the third.

La Serna’s defense then went to work, forcing consecutive ball-under turnovers that were converted into goals from Goddard and Nate Fernandez (who was assisted by Goddard), with the second score giving the Falcons an 8-4 lead with 3:41 remaining in the third.

When La Serna didn’t commit turnovers, the Lancers were turned away as shots from Evan Monterroso and Steven Marcy were denied on consecutive offensive possessions by Falcons goalie George Vine IV (eight saves).

Even a Lancers’ six-on-five opportunity with 2:06 left in the quarter was denied when a shot from Monterroso was batted away on a field block from Fernandez (three goals and five steals).

In the meanwhile, Crescenta Valley took its largest lead on a goal from Omar Trad (three goals) with 2:48 left in going up, 9-4.

“It really was our defense that set up our offense,” said Moguel, who led the Falcons with four goals. “When we struggled on offense, we just worked harder on defense.”

La Serna did make a push that commenced with 1:10 remaining in the third on a goal from Mooney, who led all scorers with five goals.

The Lancers then opened the fourth with scores from Evan Acosta and Jacob Cantu with 3:33 left to pull within 9-7.

Yet, the rally was quashed with back-to-back scores from Moguel, with the last coming with 2:10 left in the game that put the Falcons ahead, 11-7.

“Credit Crescenta Valley and credit Jan. They had a good game plan and they were just a better team,” Lancers Coach Jim Armstrong said. “They’re a balanced team. Right now, we’re two talented players with a bunch of role players and we were exposed.”

Part of Crescenta Valley’s early frustration stemmed from the solid play of Goncharenko, who finished with 12 saves and kept the Lancers competitive in a first half in which Crescenta Valley won the shots battle, 20-9, and was ahead on turnovers, 10-5.

Goncharenko also kept the Falcons scoreless in three-man advantage opportunities and one five-meter penalty try.

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