La Cañada High boys' water polo is second to none in first round

PASADENA — If there had been a glaring weakness for the La Cañada High boys’ water polo team this season, perhaps the unanimous answer from the squad would have been second quarters.

In losses to divisional foes Mira Costa and Martin Luther King, as well as in other defeats, poor second quarters often segued to setbacks.

In keeping with the theme, the second quarter did indeed play another big role for the Spartans.

However, in breaking with recent tradition, La Cañada outscored visiting Redondo Union by five goals during the seven-minute frame en route to a 17-12 win in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division III playoffs on Wednesday afternoon at Pasadena City College.

“Second quarters have just killed us this year. So, to do so well in the second quarter and basically go ahead big in that quarter was great to see,” Spartans first-year Coach Christian Flores said. “It was a big day for our team and we’ve got a big challenge coming up.”

Up next for the seventh-ranked Rio Hondo League-champion Spartans (21-9) is a Saturday date in the quarterfinals at No. 2-seeded Corona Santiago (22-8), which blitzed Mark Keppel, 22-2, on Wednesday.

Bay League third-place finisher Redondo Union (18-8), the division’s 10th-ranked team, appeared up for a battle and only trailed, 3-2, after one quarter despite committing eight turnovers.

The second quarter, however, proved a game-changer for La Cañada, which scored on its first five possessions and took an 8-2 lead after a goal from Leo Neat off an assist from Justin Moh with 3:24 left in the period, which led to a Seahawks timeout as the Spartans led, 8-2.

While the Seahawks finally countered with a six-on-five goal from Davey Thomas at the 2:54 mark in the second, the Spartans closed out the half with a goal from Peter Loakes (team-high six goals and four steals) off another Moh assist in taking a 9-3 advantage into the break.

“I think we were just more focused in the second quarter. That’s kind of been a problem for us this year,” said Moh, who finished with five goals, four assists and two steals. “We played strong defense, we scored and we built our lead.”

La Cañada then increased its lead to 10-3 as Loakes scored on the opening possession of the second half.

To the Seahawks’ credit, they continued to fight as the Spartans hit a lull and closed within 13-8 with 1:55 remaining in the third on a goal from Jonathan Ortiz off an assist from Garrett Lash.

La Cañada, though, scored perhaps the two biggest goals of the match in the final 1:30 of the third quarter, first on a flip score from Moh that was followed by a goal from Loakes that gave the Spartans an insurmountable 15-8 advantage heading into the fourth.

“Redondo did a good job of finishing and getting fouled,” said Spartans senior Connor Shankwiller, who totaled two goals and two assists. “But when we didn’t foul and forced them to create offense, they had trouble.”

Part of Redondo’s ability to hang tough came from the Seahawks’ ability to draw exclusions and score as the visitors finished eight for 10.

“Sometimes the exclusions go for you and sometimes they don’t,” Flores said. “You can’t really complain to the official because we had our hands down and were caught.”

La Cañada goalie Jeff Lee finished with six saves and a steal.

Flores knows that Lee and his defense will face a bigger threat on Saturday.

“I’ve heard that Santiago is a really good team and they are the second seed,” Flores said. “I guess we’ll see how good they are on Saturday. I’m optimistic. Hey, we couldn’t do anything right in the second quarter until today. Anything is possible."

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