The final score of the girls’ soccer match was the same, as was the venue of Costa Mesa High.
So was the player who scored the match-winning goal.
But, while last year’s Orange Coast League win by Costa Mesa over rival Estancia was the first in eight years, Costa Mesa coach Jason Boyce hopes he is creating a culture where being competitive against the Eagles is commonplace.
It’s early in league play, but Costa Mesa still took a step toward its second straight league title Tuesday night. Senior Lani Whittaker again scored the winning goal in the 68th minute as the Mustangs rallied to beat the Eagles 2-1.
Costa Mesa (7-6, 3-0 in league) moved into outright first place in the league, ahead of Estancia (4-6-1, 2-1).
The Mustangs had to come back from an early deficit. The Eagles had a 1-0 halftime advantage after junior Merlin Serpas scored in the 28th minute. Wendy Milan’s long free kick found the feet of Alyssa Garrett. Costa Mesa goalkeeper Aubrey Hallman came out to challenge, but she collided with Garrett and defender Vanessa Carrillo and was taken out of the play. The ball bounced to Serpas, who flicked a shot into the empty net.
“How they got their goal was that we weren’t as focused in the back,” Boyce said. “We let the ball go over our head, when we like to keep the play in front of us ... but I thought we did a great job of not letting it rattle us. I was very proud of the fight they gave.”
The Mustangs turned to freshman phenom Itzel Ramirez to level the score in the 47th minute. Ramirez was fouled just outside of the box, but she buried a straightaway free kick into the upper-left corner of the net from 20 yards out.
It was Ramirez’s 14th goal of the season. She has scored four goals in the Mustangs’ first three league matches.
“I wanted to help the seniors win another year, beat Estancia,” Ramirez said. “I calmed down and I took a pretty good shot, so I was feeling confident.”
Ramirez, one of three freshmen playing key roles for Costa Mesa, along with defender Sophia Yaruda and defensive center midfielder Isabelle Whittaker, also assisted Lani Whittaker’s goal. Her shot in the box deflected off the face of a Costa Mesa defender and trickled past the goal line near the left post.
The Eagles pushed Milan, their center back, forward to try to get the equalizer, but the Mustangs did a good job on her as well as on UC Irvine-signed senior forward Desiree Mendoza. Mendoza’s lone shot for Estancia came in the second half, and it whistled just wide left of the goal from 30 yards out.
Vanessa and Daisy Carrillo, as well as Jazmin Lopez, also made a difference in the back for Costa Mesa.
“We knew we weren’t going to get a lot of good opportunities, and we missed a couple of key ones,” Estancia coach Josh Juarez said. “They’re a good team ... They’re solid all the way around and we knew they were going to be a good defensive team. Their back line is definitely strong.”
Whittaker was able to make the most of her opportunity late, for the second straight year in the Battle for the Bell against Estancia.
“It means a lot, being able to leave a legacy and tell my teammates and everybody else that I’m going out with a bang,” she said. “This just proves that we weren’t lucky [last year] and we’re going to keep battling. We worked for this.”
Costa Mesa plays at Saddleback next, while Estancia travels to Orange. Both matches are scheduled for Thursday at 3 p.m.
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