PASADENA — There's not much that separates the Crescenta Valley High boys' water polo team and rival Pasadena Poly.
That was never more evident than in Saturday morning's CIF Southern Section Division V quarterfinal matchup at Pasadena Poly.
Having split two previous meetings in the regular season, the rubber match saw the teams deadlocked at the conclusion of each of the first three quarters.
The difference came in the fourth and final stanza, as a goal by Pasadena Poly's Turner Romey with more than three minutes to play stood as the game-winner, with the third-seeded Falcons unable to cash in any of their final attempts in falling to the Panthers, 8-7.
"It was a great chess match in strategy and execution of strategy," said Falcons Coach Jan Sakonju, whose team ended the year at 16-10. "I think mentally [the Falcons] were in the right spot, I think they executed the game plan, it was just the final part of putting it in."
For the match, Crescenta Valley converted seven of 40 shots, while Poly answered with an eight-for-24 performance.
"I think that's what it came down to was who made more mistakes and, unfortunately, that was us," said Crescenta Valley's Griffin Harting, who tied for the team lead of two goals with Ryan Moguel. "[Our] defense was good; there were just a few lapses that we practiced not to make. On offense, there were some rushed shots.
"And sometimes, the shots just didn't fall."
Pasadena Poly (22-5), which won the Prep League and is currently defending its Division V title, defeated the Falcons, 8-5, in a nonleague match before Crescenta Valley claimed a 9-1 win in the Oxnard Tournament. In its loss, the Falcons were without Moguel, while the Panthers did not have All-CIF standout Spencer Rogers in their loss. This time around, the rivals were at full strength and put on a show for the jam-packed audience.
"It's a great rivalry that we have; it's a shame one of the teams had to lose," said Panthers Coach Ryan Katsuyama. "We gave the crowd a good game."
Rogers had two goals, but played a huge role in the game, drawing multiple defenders each time he touched the ball.
"You can see how CV defended him, they were dropping on him, which gave us shots from the outside," Katsuyama said. "As the game went on, we obviously capitalized."
In particular, Dennis Grover capitalized, as he led the Panthers with three goals, including two from the perimeter in the fourth stanza.
Moguel scored off a rebound 55 seconds into the fourth to give the Falcons a 6-5 lead.
The Poly crowd erupted not long after when Grover tied it up, however, as he shot from near mid-pool with one second left on the shot clock with 5:04 to go. Grover then gave the Panthers the lead at 7-6 with 4:19 to go on a lob shot from the perimeter.
"He hits those all the time," said Sakonju, who got nine saves from George Vine IV. "We knew that he was capable of that."
Just 20 seconds later, the Falcons answered emphatically when Daniel Park tied the game off an Omar Trad assist.
Twenty-four seconds later, Romey scored. The whirlwind offense would end there, though.
Crescenta Valley had a chance to continue it, however, when a turnover at mid-pool left Moguel with the ball driving in. A wide-open Park was unseen by Moguel though, leading to a late pass which allowed Rogers to defend Park and stop the golden opportunity.
Trad had a solid shot on a man-advantage with 55 seconds, but like many, it was saved by Poly goalie Josh Ball, who turned in 15 saves. Grover aided the defensive cause and then some with seven field blocks.
Crescenta Valley had one final shot after Sakonju called a timeout with 5.62 seconds remaining. Emblematic of just how close the Falcons were, Nate Fernandez got a good mid-range look, fired and it was deflected by Ball. The ball then clanged off the post and Ball flipped it away.
"Poly played a great game," Harting said.
Consecutive goals by Moguel and Harting put the Falcons up, 2-1, with 39 seconds remaining in the first quarter, but Romey answered with 21 seconds left to tie the match heading into the second quarter.
Trevor Goddard scored off a Park assist to open the second-quarter scoring and the Falcons looked to add on, but Ball stopped a five-meter attempt. The Panthers tallied the next two goals before Harting tied it on an excellent skip shot from the perimeter with 19 seconds left, tying the match at 4 going into halftime.
Rogers, with three Falcons defending him, scored 38 seconds into the second half, but Crescenta Valley countered when Fernandez uncorked a splendid outside shot with 1:49 to go in the third period.
Neither team ever led by more than a goal.
"We're very familiar with them," Harting said. "We had a very specific game plan and we executed pretty well, but, like I said, there were some lapses."