COSTA MESA — The go-ahead shot was a baseline jumper taken by senior center Gianna Jason, who rarely shoots from outside of the key.
Then freshman Maya Van Den Heever, who hadn't touched a basketball in about a month, hit four clutch free throws down the stretch to seal the victory.
You could call the Estancia High girls' basketball team scrappy, or even opportunistic. Just make sure you also call the Eagles the winners of the first Battle for the Bell game of 2013.
Estancia, ranked No. 9 in CIF Southern Section Division 3-A, stormed back Tuesday night in its home gym. The Eagles scored the last 11 points of the game to stun rival Costa Mesa, 49-42, in the Orange Coast League opener for both schools.
Both teams have league title aspirations this year. Only Estancia opened with a win. And the Eagles can ensure that they take back the bell they lost last year by winning again at Costa Mesa on Jan. 29.
"Nobody works harder than us, I know that," Estancia co-coach Xavier Castellano said after his team pulled out the victory Tuesday. "We went to our press and that won us the game. Mesa played great. We got lucky. But we got lucky because we prepare for that, we work on stuff like that, end-of-game situations."
Costa Mesa Coach Nichole Maddox wouldn't argue that the Eagles got lucky. She said her team was unlucky, as it was missing senior guard Rachel Witter (sick). When Estancia rallied to defeat Costa Mesa last month at the CdM Tip-off Classic, the Mustangs were also down two starters, Witter and senior co-captain Molly Settles.
"We're definitely the better team," Maddox said. "We've never had a full team, so being able to be in the lead the whole game and playing without a full team says something. I mean, it comes down to finishing, and we were unable to finish tonight.
"Losing doesn't necessarily mean you're not the better team. Better teams lose."
But there will be no asterisk for Tuesday's game. Estancia (10-6), led by 16 points from junior captain Celia Duran, earned the victory with tough defense at the end. Costa Mesa, which had indeed led for nearly the whole game, went up by four, 42-38, on a free throw by junior Alexa Loredo with 3:32 remaining.
The Mustangs (9-7) would not score again. Instead the Eagles began to rally.
Duran's three-pointer cut the Mesa lead to a single point with 1:25 left. Then Jason's baseline jumper with 43 seconds left gave the Eagles their first lead of the fourth quarter, at 43-42, and Mesa was called for traveling on the other end.
Settles stole Estancia's inbound pass, but the Mustangs missed the front-end of a one-and-one. The Mustangs were then forced to foul Duran three straight times to get to seven fouls, but Duran herself missed the front end.
But the Mustangs' inbound pass was stolen by Van Den Heever's twin sister, Nefertiti. She fed the ball to Maya, who made both ends of the one-and-one with 18 seconds left. Then Maya Van Den Heever stole a post entry pass and was fouled again. She again made two free throws with 11 seconds left, padding the Eagles' lead to 49-42.
Jason then stole the Mustangs' inbound pass and banked in a shot with eight seconds to go, providing the cap to the stunning rally.
The Van Den Heever twins, who combine for nearly 21 points per game for the Eagles, were playing in their first game in weeks. Over the holiday break, they went to the Solomon Islands to visit their mother.
"We came out really nervous and the twins had just come back," said Jason, a team captain. "I think we were just all over the place ... we fell behind but I knew we could come back. We've done it in the past. We just have a really strong team."
Junior guard Bryanna Vernon provided strong play off the bench for Estancia with 10 points and five steals. Junior forward Michelle Simmons was held to just two points but had eight rebounds and three steals.
"I love that about our team, that we can all contribute," Jason said. "The team is five girls on the court, and everyone who's sitting on the bench. I love when everyone scores and you don't really know who your leading scorer is. I think that really shows the essence of our team."
Loredo had a team-high 14 points and nine rebounds for Mesa. Settles had 11 points before fouling out in the final minute, and sophomore forward Aubriona Mathis had all of her nine points in the first half.
Senior point guard Danielle Obong, a co-captain for the Mustangs, had six points and led all players with seven steals.
Estancia plays host to Laguna Beach (13-1, 1-0) in another key league game on Thursday, while Costa Mesa is home against Godinez.
"Our goal this year is to win league," Castellano said. "To start off like this is good. It's a great win for us, not just because it's Mesa and it's a bell game, but because it's the first league game."
Orange Coast League
Estancia 49, Costa Mesa 42
SCORE BY QUARTERS
CM 17 – 7 – 10 – 8 — 42
Est 9 – 13 – 10 – 17 — 49
CM – Loredo 14, Settles 11, Mathis 9, Obong 6, Ford 2.
3-pt. goals – Mathis 1.
Fouled out – Settles.
Technicals – None.
Est – Duran 16, Jason 11, Vernon 10, M. Van Den Heever 6, Simmons 2, Herrera 2, Guyot 2.
3-pt. goals – Duran 3, Vernon 2.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – Simmons.