Jeff Lee

Jeff Lee (Roger Wilson Staff Photographer / October 8, 2013)

LA CAÑADA — To begin league play in boys' water polo, La Cañada High jumped straight into the deep end of the Rio Hondo League pool.

In the league opener for both schools, the Spartans, ranked No. 3 in Division III, hosted rival South Pasadena, which came in ranked No. 8 and looks to be the chief competitor for the league title this season.

PHOTOS: La Cañada vs. South Pasadena boys' water polo

"South Pasadena is tough. I think we got started with one of the tougher teams, but I think we should win [league] like we do every year," first-year La Cañada Coach Christian Flores said. "I don't expect any less and I want to push these guys to how good they can be."

In a tightly contested game, especially early on, La Cañada held the Tigers off to win, 13-8, using relentless defense and five goals from Peter Loakes to start Rio Hondo with a big win.

"It's always good to start with a win against one of the top contenders in our league," senior captain Justin Moh said.

La Cañada (8-4, 1-0) notched the first two goals of the contest. Loakes got things started with a goal from long distance on the power play at the 5:08 mark. Matt Olson, who would end up second on his team with four goals, scored the next one on another long-distance blast with 2:19 left. South Pasadena (7-6, 0-1) got one back in the final minute from Pierce Deamer.

Overall, the Spartans dominated the first period, but Tigers goalkeeper Will Renken made five saves, none of the garden variety, and the Spartans clung to a 2-1 advantage after one.

Loakes (five goals on 10 attempts, one assist, six steals) also scored the first goal of the second period before the visiting Tigers roared back with three goals in 57 seconds to seize the lead. The first was a long shot from Cameron Lee and the next two were recorded by Reed Buck with Lee assisting on the first.

Buck added a third consecutive goal less than a minute later and South Pasadena found itself up, 5-3, with two minutes left before break. However, the Spartans pumped in three goals in the final 1:41 of the second quarter. Olson (four goals on seven attempts, one assist, four steals) got his second on the power play. La Cañada then tied the game on Loakes' third goal, which came off an assist by goalkeeper Jeff Lee. The senior suffocated a Tigers shot and then threw a long outlet pass to Loakes. Lee finished with six blocks, one steal and three assists.

"They are our rivals," Loakes, who also won all four sprints, said. "[The win] felt really good. It always felt good to keep the lead, so when they were catching up we just had to stay strong."

Leo Neat put the Spartans ahead for good with the final goal of the half, after which La Cañada led, 6-5.

"I think in the third quarter is when we figured out we could steal the ball at the five-meter line and put some counters away," Flores said.

Loakes came out and scored the first goal of the third period as well, off an assist by Olson. Immediately after that, Justin Moh stole the ball and assisted Olson, who scored from in close, giving the Spartans some breathing room at 8-5 and drawing a Tigers timeout with 4:58 remaining.

"Their press was relentless against us," South Pasadena Coach Michael Gonzales said, "and in their own pool if you don't move against the press you're going to get pushed out and that's exactly what happened to us."

The teams each scored two goals the rest of the way in the third and, when Lee saved a point-blank shot from South Pasadena's Ryan Rodriguez at the horn, the Spartans led, 10-7, going into the final period.

Rodriguez moved in from his position up top to bang home the first goal of the fourth, but that was as close as the Tigers would get. The Spartans netted the final three scores of the match in the game's final two minutes. Loakes stole the ball and drove the length of the pool before beating Renken in close. Moh then assisted Ben Whitefield and the run was capped by a stylish score by Charles DePew, who shot the ball backhand over his shoulder facing away from the net.

La Cañada, which beat the Tigers both times last season, will face the Tigers one more time on Oct. 24 on the road.

"We're going for it all," Loakes said. "We definitely want to go even harder when we come to their court. We're just ready to take league and go on to CIF."