Toward the end of the second set on Tuesday, someone at Estancia High turned on the bright lights in the gym. The lights shined right into the eyes of the Costa Mesa players on the court.
The lights appeared to blind the Mustangs, keeping them from finishing the Eagles at set point. Their coach, Todd Hanson, argued that the point should not have counted because of the lights.
There would be no replay, but the Mustangs didn't have to squint against rival Estancia. They swept the Eagles, 25-12, 25-19, 25-21, and swept the Battle for the Bell boys' volleyball series for the second straight season.
Costa Mesa picked up its second Orange Coast League win, both coming against Estancia. The Mustangs topped the Eagles in the league opener and at the start of the second part of league.
Everyone in league keeps beating the Eagles, who are 0-16 in league since last season. The Mustangs have only four wins to show in league during the same stretch. They, unlike the Eagles, have been in some league contests.
Keeping the Mustangs (5-9, 2-4 in league) from winning the close ones this season have been a lack of communication and a constant nosebleed.
Two starters missed a match at Saddleback on April 4 because of a school trip to Catalina Island. Two days before the match, opposite Logan Whalen and middle blocker Carlos Vallejo informed Hanson of the trip. The Mustangs wound up losing in five sets.
"We had to switch our match [against Saddleback] from Thursday night to Friday because of open house," Hanson said. "They didn't communicate with me that they were going to be gone, so I chose to push [the match] to Friday, instead of Wednesday, so we didn't play back-to-back nights. Little did I know that I was going to miss two of my starters."
Hanson lost another starter at Saddleback because of a nosebleed. Hanson said setter Jens Guevara has dealt with bloody noses all season, in matches and in practices. They don't know what triggers them.
No one needed to stick gauze up Guevara's nostrils against Estancia (0-6 in league), which dropped its third match to Costa Mesa, the other at the Orange County Championships last month. If someone had to, Hanson said, "I think we could've gotten it done" without Guevara, who collected 31 assists.
The Mustangs knocked off Estancia, even with two starters, libero Ziad Ghossein and outside hitter Romario Orellana), out in the first two sets. Hanson said he sat Ghossein because he was out sick and missed two practices last week and Orellana skipped practice on Monday because of a mock test.
"They're used to just being able to come and go as they please," said Hanson, in his first season in charge of the Mustangs.
Hanson allowed Ghossein and Orellana to play in the third set, when Costa Mesa trailed. The Eagles went ahead, 8-3, behind three kills by Kaena McReynolds and a service ace by Julian Fadden.
The Mustangs eventually caught up, and kept pace, tying the set five times. Mason Tufuga helped Costa Mesa distance itself from Estancia with his left-handed shot and jump serve. With the set even at 16-16, Tufuga recorded consecutive aces. Tufuga, who finished with 23 kills, and Joseph Saucedo, who added seven kills and five blocks, put away the hosts.
"I was [happy], because last week … we played and I felt like we did not even show up," said Estancia Coach Ricardo doMonte, whose team began the season with 12 losses, before it beat Playa del Rey St. Bernard at the Foothill Tournament on April 11. "Today, it felt like in [the] beginning of the match, we let like some free balls go down, and, you know, it sends a bad message to the team. We started picking it up, and then in the second set, I thought we started like being more competitive. Finally in the third set, you know, we actually put the pressure on them. We had the lead for a while, but then they came back and took control."
For Costa Mesa to make the CIF Southern Section Division 2 playoffs, it has to run the table. Four league matches remain, and the next one is at Godinez on Thursday at 5:15 p.m.
"We got to win the rest," Hanson said. "If we could beat [defending league champion] Laguna [Beach at home on May 6], that would be great. But theoretically, if we win three of the next four, then we got a chance."
If the Mustangs don't, you can turn the lights off on their postseason hopes.