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Peter Loakes-led La Cañada High water polo turns back Royal

LA CAÑADA — Peter Loakes was delegated primarily a defensive role as a junior and sophomore on the La Cañada High boys’ water polo team.

After the sea change the Spartans endured last season, graduating five All-Rio Hondo League players who all happened to be offensive leaders, Loakes has stepped into a much bigger role as a senior in 2013.

By the looks of La Cañada’s 10-6 victory over Royal at home Tuesday, Loakes has embraced it.

Not only did Loakes post three goals and five steals in the first half to help put the Spartans up, 7-2, at halftime, but he scored arguably the biggest goal of the game. It came with 20 seconds to play in the third quarter and extended La Cañada’s lead to three, 8-5, heading into the fourth.

“Justin Moh and I are captains now and we kind of have to be the facilitators on the team, make the plays and if we need to score the goals,” said Loakes, who finished with four goals and five steals while Moh had two assists, two steals and a goal Tuesday. “It’s getting better; I like the stats and having a fun time scoring the goals.”

Royal, a CIF Southern Section Division II squad, had been down all game, but opened the third quarter with a 3-0 run. It brought the Highlanders within striking distance, with two of their goals coming on six-on-five chances.

A Chandler Cole goal pulled Royal within 7-5 with 2:39 to play in the third quarter. The Highlanders squandered the momentum when they committed a defensive foul going for a steal and gave the Spartans, who are ranked No. 2 in Division III, a six-on-five possession 41 seconds before the fourth quarter.

First-year La Cañada High Coach Christian Flores called timeout and drew up a play for Loakes, who scored from close range on a Moh assist with 20 seconds left in the third to give the Spartans a cushion for the fourth quarter.

“We’ve been working on shooting from the inside, usually Matt Olson is there, but I switched Matt Olson with Loakes and Loakes capitalized,” Flores said of the play. “It felt pretty great.”

Olson had a good game in his own right. He scored twice, including one of the Spartans’ two fourth-quarter goals, and grabbed three steals.

The Spartans (5-1) may never have been able to pull away in the fourth, as they committed five turnovers and came up empty on six of eight shots in the final seven minutes, but the three-goal cushion was enough for them to ride their way to a win.

“After we put in our second lineup and got scored on a lot, we felt kind of bad and we kind of really needed that to keep our play going,” Loakes said of his final tally of the game. “I felt really good after scoring the goal, just getting one back after they’d scored.”

The game was officially put out of reach and the scoring capped on a Moh goal, which came off a Connor Shankwiler steal, with 50 seconds to play.

While Loakes may be branching out this season, his defense was still steady with his five steals. In all, the Spartans forced 22 turnovers and took 11 more shots, 28-17, than Royal in the victory.

“He’s great on defense, he’s fundamentally sound on defense,” Flores said of Loakes. “He knows where the ball’s going to go, he knows where the ball is and he knows where he has to be in order to take the ball. He’s great at that and I think his defense leads this offense and makes this offense that much better.”