COSTA MESA — A year ago, when Kyle Hefner rang the bell, he says it felt bittersweet for Costa Mesa High to win the Battle for the Bell rivalry for the first time in five years.
Hefner and his boys' basketball teammates had claimed the series against Estancia and the rib dinner that comes with it. But they lost the game at the buzzer, costing them second place in the Orange Coast League.
This year's ribs, Hefner didn't want them to taste bitter at all.
He bit his tongue for much of the first half on Wednesday, unable to score in the first half. Not helping Hefner was that he had to sit in the second quarter because he picked up his second foul.
When the junior started the second half, his teammates fed him the ball before he planned to eat on someone else's dime. Hefner came out firing. He made his first three shots, knocking down a jumper and then converting two layups.
He was making his dinner reservations by producing 18 points on eight-of-10 shooting in the second half and lifting the Mustangs to a 50-39 victory, their first sweep of Estancia in six years.
Before Hefner and the Mustangs left their court for the restaurant, they walked up to the trophy at half court. The feeling of ringing the bell felt and sounded much better this time to Hefner and guys like Coach Dan Krikorian, who were part of the program last season.
What was left to try out was the dinner they planned to eat 1 1/2 hours after getting past the Eagles for the second time this season.
"This year, hopefully the [ribs] will taste a little better," said Krikorian, an assistant last season, with a grin.
Winning brings out the best of any meal. Over their late dinner, the Mustangs had a lot to celebrate and talk about. One of those is that they're still in the race for second place in league, while Estancia isn't.
With three games left, the Mustangs, who are 4-3 in league, remain one game back of second-place Godinez.
The Mustangs' schedule down the stretch is easier compared to the one Grizzlies have. By Friday night, Costa Mesa can move into a second-place tie with a victory against Calvary Chapel and a Godinez loss to Laguna Beach.
No league teams have been able to play defending league champion Laguna Beach tough, except for the Mustangs. Last week, the Mustangs, at home, lost to the Breakers by one. They have bounced back since, beating Godinez and now Estancia.
The contest against the Eagles, who dropped to 2-5 in league, was over going into the fourth quarter. The guard who buried Estancia with 10 points in the third quarter was the same one who gave the Mustangs their biggest lead 64 seconds into the final quarter.
Hefner attacked the basket and put Costa Mesa ahead, 43-23. He never missed in the fourth quarter, sinking three of three shots and two of two free throws.
Shortly after Hefner recorded his final points on a layup, the teams emptied their benches with 1:40 left to play. The Mustangs' work was done. They dominated, having locked down the Eagles' top scorer, Josh Mendoza.
Going into the fourth quarter, Mendoza only had two points, 15 below his per-game average. The credit for slowing down the junior guard went to Markiece Traylor and Andrew Wright, who only allowed Mendoza to attempt four shots in the first three quarters.
"We tried to just give him a lot of attention … and to try to make it hard for him," said Krikorian, who unleashed two athletic senior guards on Mendoza, each trading off guarding Mendoza.
Mendoza finished with 10 points, eight of those points coming in garbage time.
Wright also hurt Estancia on the offensive end, finishing with 12 points. With Hefner out of the game in the second quarter because of foul trouble and the Eagles cutting the deficit to one three minutes in, Wright came alive.
It took a blocked shot by Matt Jarmacz on Wright to wake Wright up. Jarmacz yelled after swatting the ball out of play. He tried to fire his team up after keeping the Eagles in the game by scoring nine of his 14 points in the first quarter.
On the Mustangs' next possession, Wright responded. He hit a jumper and lifted his chest as he slowly walked back on defense.
Wright wasn't finished in the second. He nailed his next two shots, a jumper and a three-pointer, forcing Estancia Coach Carlos Beltran to call a timeout with 2:44 left before halftime. A one-point game was now an eight-point lead for the Mustangs, thanks to Wright's seven-point performance during a 1-minute, 23-second stretch.
"It's a nice building block for us," said Krikorian, who's in his first season in charge of his alma mater. "We're trying to build this program."
The last time the Mustangs won the bell in consecutive seasons, Krikorian says it was 11 years ago, when he was a player.
It has been that long since he's had free rib dinners in consecutive years.
Orange Coast League
Costa Mesa 50, Estancia 39
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Estancia 11 – 8 – 4 – 16 — 39
Costa Mesa 17 – 10 – 14 – 9 — 50
E – Jarmacz 14, Mendoza 10, Harry 7, Ponce 4, Beck 2, Stillman 2.
3-pt. goals – Mendoza 2, Jarmacz 1.
CM – Hefner 18, Wright 12, Comer 10, Traylor 3, JeyaRajah 2, Azurin 2, Bell 2, Jeranimo 1.
3-pt. goals – Wright 2, Traylor 1.