The Battle for the Bell baseball opener went eight innings, and the usual team won yet again.
It wasn't the usual dominating effort turned in by Estancia High. Costa Mesa appears to have closed the gap in the rivalry.
Extra innings decided the outcome at Costa Mesa on Tuesday. A two-out error and a two-out single proved to be the difference in the Eagles taking the opener in this week's three-game Orange Coast League series against the Mustangs, 6-5.
"It's huge for us," Estancia Coach Nate Goellrich said of opening league with a victory. "We're such a young team. We've been building every game. The wins are starting to come."
The wins usually come for the Eagles (2-4, 1-0 in league) whenever they face the Mustangs (2-4, 0-1). They won their 11th in a row against Costa Mesa.
This one proved to be the tightest contest between the two clubs since Goellrich's debut with the Eagles two seasons ago. The rest have been blowouts.
One of Goellrich's freshmen experienced the heated rivalry on the diamond for the first time on Tuesday. Dylan Laurent, the No. 9 hitter, made sure his team came out on top.
Behind in the count, Laurent singled in a run to right field in the top of the eighth inning to put Estancia ahead.
In the bottom half of the inning, the Eagles brought in Jackson Letterman. In his first save opportunity, Letterman somehow shut the door. He overcame walking Grady Conner, the leadoff batter, then a balk. Conner moved to second base. After a sacrifice bunt advanced Conner to third base, Letterman hunkered down.
With the infield playing in and with one out, Letterman induced a groundball right to third baseman Nick Torres. The runner took off for home, and Torres fired the ball to catcher Cody Nelson, who tagged Conner out for the second out.
Getting the last out wasn't easy. James Barton hit a bullet that first baseman Connor Brown couldn't handle. Brown recovered in time, going to his right to pick up the ball, before tossing it to Letterman, who raced over to cover the first-base bag.
"[Barton] stepped on my foot," Letterman said of how close the play was at first base.
Letterman said his foot felt fine afterward. He's suffered worse pain, tearing his anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in his right knee during the football season.
Goellrich said Letterman got cleared to play baseball before the season. The Eagles are going to need Letterman, only one of four seniors on the team.
Letterman, a catcher, said he's unable to play the position because his knee hasn't fully healed. He started at first base, went two for four with a walk, and then relieved Brown on the mound. Brown (1-2), who threw two innings, giving up one earned run and two hits, and striking out two, was one of two sophomore pitchers Estancia used.
Torres started and went toe-to-toe with Costa Mesa's ace, Connor Howard, for five innings. Estancia took a 5-4 lead, thanks to two Costa Mesa errors leading to two runs in the top of the sixth.
Howard got off the hook after the Mustangs tied it at 5-5 in the bottom of the sixth. Two straight walks by Brown brought home the game-tying run.
Howard lasted seven innings, before giving way to Alex Jimenez. The right-handed reliever got the first two batters to ground out. Then Estancia's Cody Nelson, who went two for three with an RBI, singled. Jimenez (0-1) looked like he had the third out. Torres' slow grounder forced Jimenez to charge after the ball. His throw to first was a bit off.
With runners on the corners, Laurent stepped into the batter's box. In a one-and-two hole, he went the other way with a breaking ball, driving in the go-ahead run.
"We had opportunities to win [with Estancia walking us eight times and hitting us once]," said Costa Mesa Coach Paul Grady, whose team plays at Estancia on Wednesday at 3:15 p.m., before wrapping up the series at home on Friday. "The good news is that we can play with them. If we play the game the right way, then we have a chance to win.
"The next couple of games are going to be exciting. We're pretty evenly matched."
Orange Coast League
Estancia 6, Costa Mesa 5
SCORE BY INNINGS
Estancia 012 002 01 – 6 12 1
Mesa 200 111 0 – 5 8 3
Torres, Brown (6), Letterman (8) and Nelson; Howard, Jimenez (8) and Barton. W – Brown, 1-2. L – Jimenez, 0-1. 2B – Friedman (CM), Santos (CM).