Since becoming the head boys’ basketball coach at his alma mater in 2014, one thing Xavier Castellano had never done was to lead Estancia High to an Orange Coast League win at rival Costa Mesa.
The Eagles came into Wednesday’s game as the early favorite in this year’s league race. Still, Castellano knew picking up that win in the Mustangs’ house wouldn’t be easy.
"[Costa Mesa coach] Mike [Ofer] does a great job with that team, so I knew it was going to be a battle,” he said. “Thank God we got one here. It’s been a while.”
Castellano could exhale after the final whistle, as Estancia picked up a 50-39 victory in the first Battle for the Bell game to remain in outright first place in the league. The Eagles (18-3, 3-0 in league) have won 10 straight games overall.
Estancia, which has not won a league title since 2004-05, snapped a five-game losing streak to its crosstown rival and won at Costa Mesa for the first time since Jan. 15, 2014.
“The last time we beat Costa Mesa was when [2019 Costa Mesa graduate] Nico [Dasca] was a sophomore,” Castellano said, referring to a Jan. 25, 2017 home victory over the Mustangs. “I saw him walk in the gym tonight and I was like, ‘Oh God, not you again.’”
Dasca, last year’s Orange Coast League MVP who averaged 25 points per game as a senior for the league champion Mustangs, has graduated and couldn’t suit up for Costa Mesa (6-15, 1-2), though his younger brother, freshman Christian Dasca, is now on the team.
Senior center Jake Covey had 16 points and 11 rebounds for Estancia, ranked No. 2 in the CIF Southern Section Division 5AA poll. The Eagles never trailed after guard Ben Sparks hit a three-pointer at the first-quarter buzzer for a 14-12 lead.
Still, it was far from easy as Costa Mesa battled all night long.
“I would say right off the bat, we weren’t 100% mentally focused,” said Estancia junior guard Larry Andres, who scored eight points. “We had to play better as a team.”
Dasca’s jumper pulled Costa Mesa within 35-31 early in the fourth quarter, before Estancia responded with 11 straight points. Covey had four points in the run, and he also assisted senior guard Marvin Harry’s corner three-pointer.
“It was a little bit too close for comfort throughout the entire game, so we had to make the adjustment,” Covey said. “We were getting a little bit one-dimensional and staying on the outside. We had to make an adjustment and get it in, not necessarily just to me, but inside so the defense would collapse. That worked out, with Marvin hitting the three.”
Junior forward Bo Graham also had 11 rebounds for the Eagles, who will play a home league game against Orange on Friday at 7 p.m.
“He did really well under pressure today and came up big for us,” Covey said.
Junior guard Gio Quero led the Mustangs with nine points, all in the first half. Junior wing player Alec Terry added six points.
“Our record’s not very good, but we’ve played a tough schedule,” said Ofer, whose team hosts Saddleback in league play on Friday at 7 p.m. “We’ve played some really good teams, and we’re really young. We’re trying to gain that experience. I’m proud of us no matter what, if we come out and play like that. We just picked a really bad night to shoot terrible. The shots we normally make weren’t going in tonight, and tip your hat to the Eagles. They play great defense, which is why they’re playing so well this year.”
Orange Coast League
Estancia 50, Costa Mesa 39
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Estancia 14 – 8 – 13 – 15 — 50
Costa Mesa 12 – 5 – 12 – 10 — 39
E – Covey 16, Andres 8, Pearson 6, Harry 5, Bishop 5, DeBrum 4, Sparks 3, Graham 3.
3-pt. goals – Andres 2, Pearson 1, Harry 1, Sparks 1.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – None.
CM – Quero 9, Terry 6, Spallone 5, Menendez 5, Dasca 4, Wolf 4, Matian 3, Bashea 3.
3-pt. goals – Quero 1, Terry 1, Matian 1, Menendez 1, Bashea 1.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – None.
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