La Cañada High boys' polo wins battle for league's top spot

SOUTH PASADENA — While nothing is yet official, the Rio Hondo League boys’ water polo race has become a foregone conclusion.

That’s why there was plenty of hand-slapping and jubilation on the side of La Cañada High and coinciding disappointing for host South Pasadena, as the Spartans rallied from an early three-goal deficit to defeat the Tigers, 13-7, on Thursday afternoon.

With the victory, the CIF Southern Section Division III fourth–ranked Spartans (12-7, 5-0) swept the season series, 2-0, against runner-up No. 7 South Pasadena (12-9, 3-2) as both teams have three games remaining in the league season.

“We still have some games in league, but this was for the championship,” Spartans first-year Coach Christian Flores said. “They know it and we know it. We have a tough Temple City game coming up, but we’re already thinking about the playoffs.”

Thursday’s game changed in less than a quarter, as the Spartans turned around a 5-2 deficit at the four-minute mark in the second into a 7-5 lead going into the break.

Perhaps the single biggest move was La Cañada’s recommitment to shutting down Tigers driver Pierce Deamer.

The senior had scored three goals and added an assist as the Tigers raced out to a 5-2 advantage after a goal from senior Andrew Wright with 4:32 remaining in the first half.

From that point on, Deamer drew double- and triple-team coverage, with Spartans senior Connor Shakwiller one of a few players tasked with slowing down the Tigers’ top threat.

“Pierce is their best player and all they really try to do is pass the ball to him,” said Shakwiller, who tallied a game-high four goals and two steals. “We figured if we could stop the ball going into him, we’d stop the team.”

La Cañada’s collapsing defense proved suffocating, as the Tigers committed 10 turnovers in the second quarter (25 overall) and only attempted one shot.

With the Spartans’ defense generating turnovers on virtually every Tigers offensive possession, La Cañada rallied with a pair of goals from Peter Loakes before Shakwiller knotted the game at 5 off an assist from Reed Buck with 1:11 left in the second quarter.

Shakwiller netted two additional goals in rapid succession, first with 28 seconds left before the utility player scored the Spartans’ last goal of the half on a six-on-five opportunity to give La Cañada a 7-5 advantage going into the half.

Had the Tigers hoped for a third-quarter reprieve, such thoughts were futile.

While the Spartans’ offense sputtered in the third quarter, the defense forced four more turnovers from the Tigers in shutting them out and winning the third, 2-0, in going up, 9-5, heading into the final quarter.

While South Pasadena finally broke a 12-minute, 8-second drought with a goal from Adrian Suarez with 6:24 left in the fourth to pull within, 9-6, South Pasadena never climbed any closer.

La Cañada scored four of the game’s final five goals, including a last-second heave from goalie Jeff Lee to complete an impressive 11-2 game-ending run.

“The defense did a great job shutting out their best player,” said Lee, who finished with seven steals and three saves. “I think we were aggressive, but smart.”

Even though the Spartans defeated the Tigers, 13-8, on Oct. 8 in the team’s first meeting, Thursday appeared to be the Tigers’ afternoon, at least early.

South Pasadena scored the game’s first two goals and took a 4-2 advantage after one quarter thanks to a stellar 10-meter goal from Deamer just before the clock expired.

Not to be forgotten was a gritty effort from Tigers goalie Will Renken, who at one time stuffed four straight Spartans attacks to begin the second quarter in finishing with 10 saves and three steals.

“We have to be more than a two-player team. We just can’t be Pierce and Will,” Tigers Coach Michael Gonzalez said. “You saw the game plan on how to beat us today. We have to develop more options and be able to attack from other players or we’re in trouble.”

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