PASADENA — Following a rousing comeback in the first round of CIF Southern Section Division V postseason play, the Flintridge Prep boys' water polo team had showcased its ability to pull off a dramatic comeback.
But against second-seeded Los Altos, there was simply no coming back after a fateful third quarter changed the playoff tides for good.
Having battled Los Altos to a stalemate after the first stanza, the Rebels fell behind by three at the half before an avalanche of momentum went against them in the third, leading to a season-ending 24-15 defeat in the quarterfinals Saturday afternoon at Pasadena Poly.
"It just slowly slipped away from us," said Flintridge Prep Coach Dan Hare, whose Rebels (14-12) rallied to defeat Riverside Poly, 18-14, in the first round Wednesday. "We knew it was gonna be a physical game, we knew there were gonna be matchup issues.
"We knew it was gonna take a very important second half."
But it was a second half, particularly the third quarter, dominated by Hacienda League champion Los Altos (20-10), which will now play Pasadena Poly on Wednesday in the division semifinals. Holding an 11-8 lead, the Conquerors outscored the Rebels, 7-1, in the deciding third stanza.
"That's a good team," said Rebels senior Ethan Vandeventer, who had a team-high seven goals to go with three assists. "They had some good defense [in the] second, third and fourth quarters.
"We missed some key shots."
Against a physical, pressing Los Altos squad, Prep was afforded 15 man-advantages, but converted on just six.
"I'm very happy they persevered, especially after that first quarter," Conquerors Coach Chris Coleman said. "I give it to my boys and my man-down defense."
Man-advantage goals by senior John Treinen and Vandeventer inside the first two minutes of the fourth period cut the deficit to eight on two occasions, but Los Altos began running out the clock with roughly four minutes left and would also exploit an aggressive Rebels attack with easy goals.
"We didn't need goals, the clock is our friend," Coleman said.
A Vandeventer man-advantage tally off an assist from Jamie Walker stood as the final goal of the match and Prep's season.
Treinen finished with three goals, senior Carlo Sivilotti had two and junior Diego Delgado added a goal, four assists and four steals.
But it wasn't enough to counter the firepower of Los Altos, which was led by prolific scorer and captain Justin Contreras, who tallied a match-high nine goals. Teammates George Millard and Matthew Perez, who was ejected in the fourth, scored six and four goals, respectively.
Contreras scored 51 seconds into the match after the Conquerors killed a man-advantage for the Rebels on the first possession.
Vandeventer tied it shortly thereafter off a steal and assist by sophomore Sean King.
Los Altos took a 3-1 lead only to be equalized by a goal from Vandeventer off a Delgado assist and then a Vandeventer steal in which he found Delgado who then crossed it in to senior Alex Blaine.
Los Altos, which scored on five of its first six shots, vaulted back ahead, 5-3, but Prep came back on a skip shot from Vandeventer with 1:16 to go in the first to make it 5-4.
A beautiful goal by Vandeventer in which he spun past his man, and then shot with another defender dropping on him cut the score to 6-5 in the opening period with 47 seconds to go. Not done quite yet, Vandeventer tallied a five-meter score to knot the match after one.
Los Altos scored the first four goals of the second quarter to begin the massive momentum shift, one that would never swing back in the Rebels' favor.
"They're a physical team, we knew we were in for a dogfight," Hare said. "It just slipped away in the third quarter."
With the loss, there were plenty of emotions for the Rebels, as the program graduates 10 seniors, who are largely responsible for leading the program to three straight playoff berths, two straight second-place Prep League finishes and two straight quarterfinal appearances.
"This season just reminds me of how far we've come," Hare said. "These kids who played their last high school water polo game won five games three years ago. They knew what it's like to not play in November.
"That's how far we've come."
Added Vandeventer: "It all started four years ago. We had 10 [freshmen] and we ended with 10 seniors. It's great to finish with 10 seniors. … Even though there's not as many coming back next year, Prep's here to stay."