PASADENA — Through two quarters, the visiting Temple City High girls' water polo team had found a way to frustrate CIF Southern Section Division II top-ranked La Cañada in Tuesday afternoon's Rio Hondo League game.
Perhaps then, it was only fair that the Spartans returned the favor in the second half.
La Cañada outscored the Rams by six goals over the final two quarters en route to a 12-7 victory at Pasadena City College in the first match-up of the league's final two unbeaten teams.
With the win, the Spartans improved to 11-6 and 3-0 in league, while somehow-unranked Temple City dropped to 16-2, 4-1 in league.
"We just needed a little time to wake up," La Cañada first-year Coach Nicki Davidson said. "I reminded them at halftime of everything they do so well and I wanted to make sure they'd be focused and keep pushing forward."
Temple City led, 5-4, at halftime, which prompted Davidson's message at the break.
La Cañada responded with a brilliant defensive second half in which the Spartans outscored the Rams, 8-2, and held the squad scoreless for two separates spans of 7 minutes and 44 seconds and 7:50.
Two of the catalysts for that success were attacker Genevieve Fraipont and goalie Carolyne Stern, both sophomores.
Fraipont scored a team-high four goals and tallied four of her six steals in the fourth quarter. Stern, who had one save in the first half, totaled seven stops in the second half.
"Maybe the biggest thing for us on defense was just not making stupid passes on offense and not taking unnecessary shots, because that bites you in the butt," Fraipont said. "We thought out our offense better and a lot more clearly so that when we were on defense, we had time to get into lanes and time to press them out. We weren't rushing."
Stern took center stage in the third quarter as she stopped five shots, while Temple City was denied on two six-on-five chances.
On the flip side, Fraipont scored two goals and assisted on a third to freshman Tess Fundter with 34 seconds left in the third to give the Spartans a 7-5 advantage.
Temple City avoided being blanked in the third quarter when reigning league most valuable player Gabi Sicat scored off an assist from Camille Chiang with 16 seconds left to trim La Cañada's lead to 7-6 at the end of three.
What appeared to have the makings of a classic fourth-quarter battle was anything but, as the Spartans pulled away via a 5-1 quarter.
Fraipont came up with four steals, as Temple City was held to four shots versus seven turnovers.
The game-winning goal came 31 seconds into the fourth quarter on a score from Heather Connolly off an assist from Julia Nicholls as the Spartans led, 8-6.
Fundter added two more goals, while Nicholls and Caroline Daniels chipped in a score each to give La Cañada a 12-7 lead with 1:33 left.
Temple City netted the game's final goal from Nancy Trinh with 25 seconds remaining.
Tuesday's contest is the first of two scheduled meetings between the Spartans and Rams, who will meet up in Temple City on Wednesday, Feb. 8. There is a chance that both teams can face off again Saturday in the Los Altos Conqueror Classic Tournament.
"Not to be mean, but I don't think the next time we play them it should be competitive," Stern said. "I think we should be up by a lot. We didn't start the game well and we'll do better next time."
Temple City finished Tuesday's game four of seven on man-advantages and converted its first four to take a 4-2 lead after one quarter and a 5-4 halftime lead.
"Not being ranked and coming in playing a tough game against the No. 1 team and only losing by five, I'm happy with the outcome from my team," Temple City Coach Oscar Dorado said. "We look forward to seeing them again, maybe even this weekend."