LA CAÑADA FLINTRIDGE — Rivalry games create intensity, the final game in league play with finishing position still not set creates intensity and the desire to carry on a legacy creates intensity.
All three factors were in play as South Pasadena High went up against host La Cañada in boys water polo Thursday afternoon. It was the final Rio Hondo game for the two rivals, with a victory for the Tigers cementing them into second place, while a win for the already league-champion Spartans meant a third straight undefeated Rio Hondo campaign.
“It’s always intense when we play South Pas,” La Cañada Coach Devon Borisoff said. “It’s our rival in every sport, it’s like USC-UCLA, and they always happen to be the second-best team in our league. So it’s always a close game no matter what with them.”
The heated contest, which grew more physical as it progressed and was tight throughout, saw the visitors take a one-goal lead in the fourth quarter before La Cañada scored the final four to come away with a 17-14 victory.
“We really couldn’t ask for more than our team put out today,” South Pasadena Coach Robert Echeverria said.
After trailing throughout the entire first half, La Cañada (18-8, 8-0), ranked No. 1 in CIF Southern Section Division III, took a one-goal advantage into the final period before Tigers Wyatt Bukowski and Ryan McCarthy scored goals 35 seconds apart to seize the lead back at 14-13 with 4:58 to go. Soon after, an outside shot from South Pasadena (17-10, 5-3) by Pierce Deamer was blocked and La Cañada senior Symeon Stefan broke the other way with the ball. No one came to crowd him and the senior moved in before rifling the ball into the back of the cage to tie the score at 14 with 4:13 to go.
“These are the games when we just have to buckle down, put your head down, and work through it and that’s what we did,” Stefan said.
South Pasadena’s Alex Zoveined tried to knot the game back up again, but his hard skip shot hit the piping of the goal and rebounded back into the pool. On the ensuing breakout by the Spartans, Chase Borisoff, surrounded by three Tigers defenders, lobbed a shot over goalie Will Renken for the go-ahead score with 3:37 left.
“That was a great game to go out on in league. I’m a senior. That’s a great way to end my Rio Hondo career in our pool,” Chase Borisoff said.
With just over two minutes remaining, South Pasadena came painfully close to tying the game with their rivals once more, when Matt DeFulgentis’s long-distance shot hit a couple body parts on the way toward goalie Jeff Lee, causing him to lose track of it, but the altered shot splashed down inches short of the goal line, protecting the Spartan advantage. On the next possession by La Cañada, Stefan lobbed in his game-high seventh goal to give his team some breathing room. Spartan Bryce Hopkins scored the final goal of the game with 1:22 left off a pass from Stefan, and the hosts pulled out a hard-fought 17-14 win.
“We’ve been working a lot on not giving up the lead in the fourth quarter and finishing games at the end,” Spartan Justin Moh said. “So we’ve been watching a lot of National Geographic documentaries about lions. We’re trying to get that killer instinct on the gazelle.”
South Pasadena came out strong at the start, swimming out to a 5-1 advantage 5:35 into the first quarter. After the score was tied at 1, Bukowski scored the next two goals, followed by Deamer’s first of his team-high four goals, leading to Coach Borisoff calling a timeout after he was issued a yellow card for throwing his sunglasses. Zoveined netted the next goal and the South Pasadena advantage peaked at 5-1. La Cañada scored the final two goals of the first, which ended with the visiting team up, 5-3.
In the second quarter, Spartan Johnny Louk tied the game at 6 with a nifty over-the-shoulder shot with a his back to the goal. South Pasadena then scored the next three goals to grab control back before La Cañada scored the final two goals of the half to trail, 9-8, at half. They trailed, 10-9, in the third quarter until Stefan scored three consecutive goals in a 1:21 span, after which the Spartans would not trail again.
“If [Stefan] is feeling it like that he can light it up for seven or eight goals easily,” Coach Borisoff said. “It’s up to the other team at that point to try to double-team and make us go to something else, but they weren’t really doing that, so Symeon kept scoring for us.”
The loss means that South Pasadena finishes tied for second in the Rio Hondo with Temple City, a team the Tigers beat last week after dropping their first encounter with the Rams. A coin flip will now determine second place for playoff seeding.
The playoff brackets will be released Sunday.
“[We want] to get that CIF ring,” Stefan said. “I think we have a shot at it and we are just going to do our best and go for the gold.”