LA CRESCENTA — As the only ranked team in the final CIF Southern Section Division III coaches’ poll playing in Tuesday’s wild-card round, Crescenta Valley came into play with seemingly the best credentials of any of the 20 wild-card teams, including its opponent Highland of Palmdale.
The Falcons saw their halftime lead erased by visiting Highland, but showed why they are ranked No. 10 in the division with two second-half goals, scored in quick succession, to win, 3-1, Tuesday afternoon at Osborne Field.
“I can’t tell you how relieved I was,” said Crescenta Valley’s Justin Wright, who scored the game’s first goal. “I think that we have good momentum going into the first round. I think we needed to get that one under our belt and I’m proud of everyone that played.”
Next for the Falcons will be a first-round matchup Thursday on the road against Placentia Valencia, the Empire League champion, and a team the Falcons stormed back to beat in the playoffs last season, 3-2, in overtime after surrendering the first two goals of the contest.
“It’s going to be a tough game. It’s going to be a physical game,” Clark said of his squad’s first-round game coming on Thursday. “They have a nice facility, it’s first class. It’s going to be a lot of fun to go over there and to get one away from them again. They have a lot of reason to want to beat us, and more than that we both want to move on, they have something extra.”
Crescenta Valley (22-4-3) broke a 1-1 tie in the game’s 64th minute when Augustine Ahn headed home what turned out to be the game-winner. The sophomore came forward from his position at center fullback for a corner kick by Chris Sinani and arrived with speed just as the ball did the same to redirect it into the back of the net.
“I saw the service coming from the corner kick,” Ahn said. “I asked my other defenders if I could go up. Most of the time I don’t, but I felt something special and I just hit it today.”
The Falcons, the Pacific League No. 3 entry in playoffs, struck again in the 65th minute for an insurance goal off the foot of senior Matt Ryan, as the Highland players were still feeling the sting of the last goal. Tony Royer dribbled through the middle of the Highland defense before finding Ryan to his right with a pass the senior then put away to set the final margin.
“For [Augustine] to go in and finish that corner on the header, that was huge. That was a big goal for us,” CV Coach Grant Clark said. “To get that second goal right after it was a backbreaker.”
Highland (9-5-7) had tied the game on a goal by Gerrardo Barrios, assisted by Jose Mojica, 18 minutes into the second half.
“It was a close game,” Ahn said. “We were both going back and forth. It could have been a tie game. I thought it would go overtime, but I guess the harder-working team won.”
The lone score of the first half came from Wright, off an assist by Eric Hartoonian, seven minutes before the break. Hartoonian unleashed a cross from the right wing that went directly to the feet of Wright, who had made a run deep into the box.
“I slipped [a pass to] Eric Hartoonian through and he just laid me [a pass] right in front and I just got my foot right in front of that and tapped it in,” Wright said.
The Bulldogs, the No. 3 entry from the Golden League, could easily have had two more goals were it not for the Falcons defense twice coming through with goals literally on the line. In the first half, with the game scoreless, Highland’s Pablo Estrada touched the ball, sending it into the air toward an open net after the Falcons keeper got pulled away from the goalmouth pursuing the ball, but Falcon Cedric Adad cleared it inches before it would have been too late.
Early in the second half, Falcon Daniel Chang prevented another Bulldogs goal when the junior slid across the turf to kick a shot off the line in another open net situation.
“We made some mistakes,” Clark said, “but luckily we had people that are smart enough to clean up for us. It is so true we had a couple opportunities to really make a mess out of this. We are fortunate to come out with a 3-1 win. Give a lot of credit to Highland. They pressed and made us make mistakes. They did everything they could. We just came out with a couple more finished opportunities then they did.”