Estancia boys’ soccer sweeps Costa Mesa, positions itself for stretch run

Estancia's Esteban Esquivel battles with Costa Mesa's Nathen Rocha during the second Battle for the Bell on Wednesday.
Estancia’s Esteban Esquivel battles with Costa Mesa’s Nathen Rocha during the second Battle for the Bell in boys’ soccer on Wednesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Estancia High School took care of its most pressing matter in boys’ soccer Wednesday evening, completing a sweep in the Battle for the Bell rivalry with Costa Mesa to win the prize for the seventh time in the past decade. Now comes the important work.

The visiting Eagles won the midfield battles and were precise enough up top to keep pace with Orange Coast League leader Santa Ana, claiming a 4-1 triumph that sets up showdowns Friday and Monday, and perhaps next Wednesday, too, that could lead to their first league crown in four years — or leave them out of the CIF Southern Section playoffs.

Estancia (5-10-2 overall, 5-1-1 in the Orange Coast League) sits just three points behind frontrunner Santa Ana (10-3-5, 6-0-1), whose 1-0 victory at Saddleback dropped the Roadrunners (10-4-3, 3-2-1) into a third-place tie with Santa Ana Calvary Chapel (5-7-1, 3-2-1), both sides with a game in hand — a Feb. 4 makeup date — over everybody else.

The Eagles are home Friday against Saddleback, ranked seventh in Division 2, then take on Santa Ana, ranked No. 3 in Division 2, on Monday at Santa Ana Stadium, then return home against Calvary Chapel. Win them all, they would share the championship at the very least. Drop all three and the season’s done. This is what the brutal pre-New Year’s schedule was designed to prepare them for, and they’re thinking big.

Estancia's Kevin Flores goes up for a header against Costa Mesa's Kevin Perez Cruz on Wednesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

“We’re definitely trying to clinch second, and after we clinch second, we’ll go for first,” said Estancia head coach Robert Castellano. “We’re trying to go one game at a time. Saddleback’s a big game. We beat them last time at their place. We’ve got to take advantage of home on Friday.”

Estancia will want to be crisper than in Wednesday’s triumph, which extended its unbeaten streak in the series to 10 games and gave them a 20-5-9 record against their archrival since January 2007. The Eagles used their speed to get behind Costa Mesa’s defense in the first meeting, scoring three times in the first 12 minutes of a 6-2 rout, and Costa Mesa coach Santiago Guzman stationed his back line deep to compress their attacking space.

Holding midfielder Cruz Valdovinos played the chief role, orchestrating the attack and teaming with Alex DeLeon to lead the Eagles through a series of chaotic midfield tête-à-têtes that provided fuel for the goals — by Kevin Flores and Richard Cervantes in the first half, the latter on a penalty kick, and by Imanol Vargas and Felix Solis after the break.

Estancia's Richard Cervantes and Costa Mesa's Isaiah Ponce go up for a header on Wednesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

“When we play these guys, it’s very emotional, very chippy,” Castellano said. “We’re just playing off emotion, which is not good. I was more happy with the second half. We were a little bit calmer, a little bit smarter, played more of our game — not vertical the whole time — and it was nicer to watch.”

The Eagles were in charge from the start and built impressive advantages in shots (18-6), shots on goal (10-3) and scoring chances (14-6). They could have gone ahead in the 17th minute, when Flores struck the left post.

Flores hit the net eight minutes later, tallying from Brandon Garcia’s feed, and Cervantes doubled the lead 12 minutes later, finishing from the penalty spot after Costa Mesa defender Kevin Perez Cruz took down Garcia in the Mustangs’ box. Vargas got the third just two minutes into the second half, and Solis finished at the right post in the 58th minute after goalkeeper Ethan Smithlin parried a Flores shot across the goal’s face.

Costa Mesa's Ethan Smithlin attempts to block a penalty shot in the second Battle for the Bell in boys' soccer on Wednesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Costa Mesa (4-13-4, 1-6-0) spoiled Estancia’s bid for the fifth shutout in seven games with a stoppage-time penalty kick at the close, Miguel Reyes converting after drawing a foul by goalkeeper Jairo Aguilar.

The Eagles say they’re ready for what comes next.

“Even though our record doesn’t show it, we’re a pretty good team,” Garcia said. “And when we want to play good, we’re the best team in our league. If we keep our composure and play our game, [winning the league title] should be easy.”

Costa Mesa's Isaiah Ponce and Estancia's Adrian Suarez battle for a ball on Wednesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

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