The top two girls’ basketball teams in the Orange Coast League met Monday night in a pivotal late-season game.
For Costa Mesa and Santa Ana high schools, the chance to play for a league title has been a rarity.
Costa Mesa won back-to-back league titles in 2007 and 2008, the only two for the program in the Orange Coast League and part of five overall.
Inside the Santa Ana gym, the Saints have hung banners for all of the school’s league titles, none of which are for girls’ basketball.
Both teams will have two more days to see if the wait is over, as the host Saints defeated the Mustangs 44-36 to delay the crowning of a league champion.
Esperanza Reyes had 12 points, 17 rebounds, five assists and three blocked shots for Santa Ana (16-9, 8-1 in league), which moved into a tie for first place with the Mustangs (13-13, 8-1).
Elizabeth Zavala added six points and 11 rebounds, and Xitlali De La Paz had 12 points with two three-pointers.
“We have a very strong philosophy in that we don’t go into a game saying, ‘We’ve got to win this,’ ” Saints coach Jessica Barber said. “We go into the game talking about, ‘No regrets.’ If we do that, we know we’re going to be fine at the end of it. The scoreboard will take care of itself.”
Costa Mesa had a chance to clinch the outright league title, but Santa Ana was ready to defend its home court.
A loud and boisterous crowd forced the Mustangs to use nonverbal communication.
“That’s why we had play cards [at the bench],” said Mustangs coach Samantha Doucette, adding that the team expected the big turnout. “Instead of yelling out the play, they could read it. They can’t hear me in this environment.”
Santa Ana went on a 14-0 run to begin the second quarter. The Saints enjoyed their largest lead of 25-11 following a three-pointer by Elizabeth Mendoza with 1:20 left in the first half.
Reyes was the driving force behind the Saints’ 25-15 halftime lead, as she contributed six points, nine rebounds and three assists before the break.
Costa Mesa countered with a 17-point third quarter, which saw the Mustangs battle back to tie the score at 31-31 on a three-pointer by Samantha Filner with 1:37 to go in the period. The Mustangs were unable to take the lead, though, and matters got worse for them in the fourth quarter. Senior small forward Katie Belmontes took a hard fall after she was blocked by Reyes on a reverse layup with four minutes to go.
Belmontes was down for several minutes, and eventually a trainer put ice on her left shoulder.
Several Santa Ana players came over to see Belmontes on the Costa Mesa bench after the game, including Reyes.
“I gave her a pat [on the back],” Reyes said. “That’s how the game is. It’s not always about the score or who is winning and stuff. It’s about what we love to do.”
Doucette did not comment on Belmontes’ injury or availability for the season finale at Estancia on Wednesday at 7 p.m.
McKayla Ortiz had eight points and nine rebounds for the Mustangs. Tarah Harmon had nine points and seven rebounds, Belmontes added eight points and eight rebounds, and Filner chipped in with eight points, five rebounds and three assists.
“We’ve been in this position before where we had to play without Katie, and they responded well,” Doucette said. “I think that ultimately, it’s going to fire them up and they’re going to want to do well by her because she’s done so much for them so far this season.”
Orange Coast League
Santa Ana 44, Costa Mesa 36
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Costa Mesa 11 – 4 – 17 – 4 — 36
Santa Ana 11 – 14 – 10 – 9 — 44
CM – Harmon 9, Ortiz 8, Belmontes 8, Filner 8, Martinez 3.
3-pt. goals – Filner 2, Martinez 1, Ortiz 1.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – None.
SA – De La Paz 12, Reyes 12, Rueda 9, Zavala 6, Mendoza 5.
3-pt. goals – De La Paz 2, E. Mendoza 1, V. Rueda 1.
Fouled out – None.