Entering the final week of the regular season, Estancia High's baseball team held the high ground.
The worst thing that could happen would be that the Eagles lost their final two games of Orange Coast League play against the champion, Laguna Beach. Even if such an instance played out, the Eagles would have a play-in game for a CIF Southern Section Division 5 playoff spot.
Eagles coach Kevin Conlin knew the circumstances, and he made the right call. Estancia, Costa Mesa and Calvary Chapel finished tied for second place at 9-6, creating two play-in games for two playoff spots on Friday. Conlin opted not to spend the available innings of ace Jake Covey, and the sophomore came through in the biggest game of the season.
Covey earned the win, as Estancia rallied past rival Costa Mesa 7-4 to claim the league's No. 2 playoff entry in Friday's first play-in game at TeWinkle Park.
The right-hander threw 6 2/3 innings, allowing five hits and striking out seven.
"I have worked super hard to get to this position, to get the chance to go into a game like this," Covey said. "I don't know if I'm going to get a game this big besides the CIF championship ever again in my life.
"To just get that meant a lot, and hard work pays off."
Covey also helped Estancia win the All-Sports Cup, given to the school that wins the overall competition between the two athletic programs. Estancia athletic director Nate Goellrich said the schools entered Friday tied in points.
Covey struggled in the third inning. A leadoff double by James Welsher followed by a single from Miguel Rodriguez set the Mustangs up. Cameron Chapman's sacrifice fly tied the score at 2-2.
Then a wild pitch and a passed ball allowed two more runs to score with two outs.
Covey said he made an adjustment, taking something off his pitches to find the strike zone. He finished his outing by retiring 12 of the final 13 batters he faced.
Nick Mazur picked up the save for the Eagles (17-12 overall).
"It really comes down to you have to be organized with your numbers and have a plan," Conlin said. "I thought we did a good thing by holding Covey out this week, and we had him ready to go today.
"He started off pretty slow, didn't have his best stuff, but he found a way."
Costa Mesa's Omar Munoz allowed two runs over five innings. Mustangs coach Don Welsher said that Munoz had not been stretched out this season, and he was pulled around the 90-pitch mark.
Tyler Corkhill, who started the game in center field, came on in relief. He walked the first three he faced. The Mustangs' defense then let him down, as Hayden Pearce's ground ball to first baseman Skylar Manning went through his legs as he tried to grab it on his backhand, resulting in two runs.
"Maybe we don't get two there, but it's a definite out, and we didn't get that," Welsher said. "It was a tough play [for us]. I don't like to throw blame on one player. It was a pivotal play, a key play, and if we could have had that out, things might have been dramatically different, but we didn't get it."
Pearce, who had two hits, said he was just trying to be a tough out with two strikes on him.
"In my very first at-bat, I had two strikes on me," Pearce said. "I tried to stay patient, tried not to let it get into my head. I just tried to stay within myself and try to compete."
Brian Rodriguez added a run-scoring single, and two more runs scored in the Eagles' five-run sixth on walks by Zander Fletcher and Justin Wood.
Costa Mesa played a second game on Friday against Calvary Chapel (14-7) to determine the league’s third automatic playoff berth. Calvary Chapel won 10-1. With the Mustangs (13-18) finishing below .500 overall, they will miss the postseason.