The Costa Mesa High boys’ basketball team already reached one of its goals earlier in the week.
With a 75-64 victory over Santa Ana Tuesday night, the Mustangs clinched the Orange Coast League title, their first outright league championship in program history.
It’s easy to lose focus after such a big accomplishment. With rival Estancia visiting in the regular-season finale, the host Mustangs stayed plenty motivated.
Led by 28 points from Osman Hefner and 18 from Nico Dasca, the Mustangs streaked to a 78-53 victory Thursday night over the Eagles.
Costa Mesa coach Mike Ofer knew the Battle for the Bell rivalry would center his team.
“I think it would have been honestly harder if it wasn’t a rivalry game,” he said. “I think because we won the title, it took a little bit of the pressure off of us.”
A packed home crowd witnessed Costa Mesa (15-11, 9-1 in league) complete the sweep of the two-game series in the rivalry. The latest result moved the Eagles (15-13, 6-4) from second to third in the league standings.
Santa Ana, which entered Thursday tied for second place with Estancia, beat Saddleback 56-40 and secured a runner-up finish by going 7-3 in league. The top three teams in the league qualified for the CIF Southern Section playoffs, and they will find out Sunday who they open with next week.
Costa Mesa will be in the Division 4AA playoffs and Estancia in Division 4A.
The Eagles pushed Costa Mesa in the first eight minutes on Thursday. The teams swapped leads seven different times.
“I thought we were playing our tempo,” Estancia coach Xavier Castellano said. “[Costa Mesa] wasn’t able to speed it up and down [the court].”
The Mustangs immediately accelerated in the second quarter. They scored 12 points in transition, including a Tre Villalpando bucket after a steal to cap a 15-2 run.
Villalpando, a senior guard, added 16 points and three assists.
Estancia closed the gap to 35-28 after a Marvin Harry three-pointer and two high-arcing threes by senior guard Mason Richards. The latter finished with 11 points, second only to junior forward Jake Covey’s 19.
Costa Mesa senior forward Ethan Elliott then beat the buzzer with a putback to enter halftime up 37-28. He chipped in eight points, as well as six rebounds.
Hefner and Dasca, both senior guards, drained contested jumpers to push the margin to 43-29 in the first few minutes of the third. The latter sank another buzzer-beater to enter the final quarter to put the Mustangs up 58-43.
“Both are confident players,” Ofer said. “As a coach, it drives you nuts sometimes with the shots they take, because they’re not great. But they knock them down. I feel a little like Steve Kerr with Steph Curry sometimes.”
“We put in the work every day,” Dasca said. “Knowing our spots, knowing what we want, it just flows for us.”
Hefner and Dasca’s hot shooting continued, increasing the Mustangs’ lead to 72-52. Ofer called off the dogs, slowly inserting backups in seniors Eli Elliott, Bryson Jack and Aruna Bijanjan until the final whistle.
The rout was another highlight from a highly successful winter sports season for Costa Mesa. The larger context was not lost on Ofer, who is also an athletic director at the school.
“Winning the [Battle for the] Bell,” he said. “Our girls’ soccer program won league. Both basketball programs won league. [Girls’] water polo won league. Things are going real well here at Costa Mesa, so this is kind of the icing on the cake.”
Orange Coast League
Costa Mesa 78, Estancia 53
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Estancia 15 – 13 – 15 – 10 — 53
Costa Mesa 16 – 21 – 21 – 20 — 78
E – Covey 19, Richards 11, Ju. Cash 7, Ja. Cash 7, Harry 5, Pearson 3, Bishop 1.
3-pt. goals – Richards 3, Harry 1, Covey 1.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – None.
CM – Hefner 28, Dasca 18, Villalpando 16, Eth. Elliott 8, Eli Elliott 4, Williamson 4.
3-pt. goals – Hefner 3, Dasca 2, Villalpando 1.
Fouled out – None.