COSTA MESA — The Estancia High girls' basketball team was in a sticky situation Tuesday night, a close Battle for the Bell game on the road.
Two senior captains fouled out near the end for the Eagles. Costa Mesa senior Molly Settles was on fire.
Enter Estancia freshman Maya Van Den Heever, who had led the Eagles offensively in the game. She came up big on defense in the final minute as well.
Van Den Heever made sure the Eagles were in a more pleasant sticky situation after the game. This one involved plenty of barbecue sauce.
Estancia headed to Newport Rib Co. after taking back the bell, holding on for a 52-51 victory at Costa Mesa High. It was the Eagles' third victory over the Mustangs this season.
"We didn't have a great game today, but I don't think anyone plays harder than us," Estancia co-coach Xavier Castellano said. "If we got lucky a third time, then we got lucky a third time."
This one meant the most, also keeping them alone at first place in the Orange Coast League. The Eagles, ranked No. 9 in CIF Southern Section Division 3-A, remain a game ahead of Laguna Beach and Godinez in league.
The Eagles (16-7, 6-1 in league) lined up at center court after the game to ring the bell.
"I think we actually came together as a family," said senior center Star Molina, who scored four points in the first quarter to help Estancia to a fast start.
"We gave it our best," Molina said. "It's our rival, so we always want to go hard, but we really did become a family today."
Van Den Heever led the Eagles with 18 points, matching a season-high. She fed her twin sister, Nefertiti, for a layup with 1:03 left that gave the Eagles a 51-47 lead. But they nearly blew that lead. Settles fouled out Molina and Jason in a matter of seconds.
Settles, who had a game-high 21 points, drove and was fouled by Molina. She converted the three-point play, bringing the Mustangs (12-10, 3-4) within a point. After an Estancia turnover, Settles then drove and fouled out Jason with 31 seconds to play. She made one of two free throws, tying the score at 51-51.
Settles then got a steal at midcourt and drove in again. This time, her shot was blocked by Maya Van Den Heever. The ball ended up in the hands of junior Michelle Simmons, who was fouled with 22 seconds left.
Simmons made the first free throw. She also made the second, but it didn't count because an object was thrown on the court just before that. She missed the re-try, keeping the Estancia lead at 52-51.
The Mustangs had a shot to win, but Costa Mesa junior point guard Danielle Obong (10 points) was well-defended by Maya Van Den Heever on the final possession. She threw up a contested three-pointer in the final seconds that came up short.
"I just wanted to win," Van Den Heever said. "I didn't want them to score. I wanted to do it for the seniors, because they're leaving."
Estancia had been motivated by comments that Costa Mesa Coach Nichole Maddox made after Estancia won the first Battle for the Bell game, 49-42, on Jan. 8. The Mustangs had played that game without senior guard Rachel Witter, who was out sick. After that loss, Maddox said, "We're definitely the better team," and, "Better teams lose."
Estancia put the quotes up in its team room the following day. Castellano said he reiterated them to his team before Tuesday's game.
"Maybe they are the better team, I don't know, but we got them three times," Castellano said. "I'd rather be lucky than good.
"I don't know what place we are in league right now," he added facetiously, "but I think we're doing OK."
Estancia is 9-1 against Costa Mesa in league in Castellano and Judd Fryslie's five years as co-coaches..
Maddox said that in Tuesday's game she had a player miss the first half for disciplinary reasons, because she missed practice on Monday. And her opinion on the best team in Costa Mesa didn't change, even with her team's third loss of the season to Estancia.
"[Castellano] said that they got lucky [last game]," Maddox said. "So the girls were pretty much like, 'He admitted that we're the better team.' The girls were pretty motivated off of that too. We talked about that the next day.
"I might not look like the smartest person, but I'll say it again: We are the better team."
Witter had six steals for Costa Mesa. Estancia junior guard Celia Duran battled through a rough shooting night for 16 points, including 11 in the fourth quarter.
"Our intensity was there," Maddox said. "I think we were right in there. They played well. I'm proud of them. I'm not disappointed about us losing because it's Estancia, I'm just happy that they played well. Molly played her heart out tonight, and Rachel Witter played exceptional defense."
Both teams had reason to feel good about the game. But only one of them got to go eat ribs after it ended.
Castellano gave credit to his resilient group.
"The reason that we're able to succeed is because they play hurt, they play sick," he said. "They have a bunch of problems, and they still make it to play every day. They still make it. I haven't had a girl miss a game this year due to injury or sickness."
Orange Coast League
Estancia 52, Costa Mesa 51
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Est 18 – 11 – 5 – 18 — 52
CM 9 – 18 – 9 – 15 — 51
Est – M. Van Den Heever 18, Duran 16, N. Van Den Heever 6, Molina 4, Simmons 4, Jason 2, Vernon 2.
3-pt. goals – M. Van Den Heever 1, Duran 1, Simmons 1.
Fouled out – Molina, Jason.
CM – Settles 21, Obong 10, Loredo 8, Mathis 5, Witter 5, Guerrero 2.
3-pt. goals – Obong 2, Settles 1, Witter 1.
Fouled out – None.