MANHATTAN BEACH — With all the postseason implications, it made sense there was a playoff feel to a La Cañada and Mira Costa high boys' water polo matchup Saturday.
Playoff positioning was on the line when two of the top three teams in CIF Southern Section Division III met at Mira Costa. For the third-ranked Spartans, there was a chance to take back the No. 2 seat it held in the preseason division rankings with a win over the Mustangs, the current No. 2 team.
Plenty of chances were there for La Cañada, but three-goal outbursts from a pair of Mira Costa players and an inability to cash in on its man advantage proved the difference in the Mustangs’ 12-6 win.
In total, the Spartans shot 30 percent (three of-10) on six-on-five opportunities. Four of their goals came on man-advantages, as Matt Olson capped the scoring on a six-on-four tally with 22 seconds left in the game.
“We need to put away our six-on-fives to win games,” said first-year La Cañada Coach Christian Flores, whose team fell to 10-5. “We need to play smarter, a little more team chemistry. It’s very frustrating when we’re doing so much work at practice and we can’t put it out there on game day. Our stats should be up there, we should be putting these points up, we should be tight with these high-caliber teams and we’re not.”
Offensively, it was a three-man show for La Cañada. Olson was one of three players to score a goal, as he finished with a pair of goals, along with Leo Neat and Peter Loakes.
“I think we’re just scared to shoot. We don’t take opportunities that we should because we’re scared that our team’s not going to cover for us, that’s where chemistry comes in,” Flores said. “I think we lack team chemistry, just that bonding, that closeness. Over time you gain that but it doesn’t happen overnight.”
Mira Costa's offense was anchored by Austin Norris and Ed Jeon, who both shared game-high honors in goals scored with three each.
“We didn’t play very smart, but in the long run our defense was good enough, we stopped their six-on-fives and I thought we pushed well,” said Mira Costa Coach Jon Reichardt, whose team improved to 10-2. “What saved us in the game, I thought, was our bench because we were in so much foul trouble. I had to put in three or four guys that don’t get a lot of playing time and they stepped up and played well.”
Norris scored his three goals in about a three-minute span in the first quarter. A blind, back-hand shot of his capped the first-quarter scoring with 1:02 to play and gave the Mustangs a 5-2 lead headed into the second quarter.
Despite giving up three man-advantages, La Cañada shut out Mira Costa and won the second quarter, 1-0, after a Neat six-on-five tally. Defensively, Spartans goalie Jeff Lee had eight steals and two saves.
Jeon put a comfortable distance between the Mustangs and Spartans with the first three goals of the second half. Mira Costa then led 8-3 and took a four-goal lead, 9-5, into the fourth quarter after Loakes scored on six-on-five and five-meter shots in the final three minutes of the third.
Although down, La Cañada was not out and drew two exclusions in the first 1:21 of the final quarter. Both were squandered on an offensive foul and blocked shot. Drew Rogerson iced the game for Mira Costa with a six-on-five goal with 3:16 to play.
While La Cañada was dealt a setback in its quest to return to the CIF championship round, it will have a chance to climb back up the rankings with a good showing against Martin Luther King at Pasadena City College at 5 p.m. Saturday. King defeated Mira Costa, 11-10, on Sept. 28.
“I told the guys they have another chance to showcase their skills and see how well we can do against a high-caliber team and not play like we’re No. 6, seven or eight,” Flores said. “We’re ranked up there and we have to perform.”