Coach Matt Frazier knew that his Estancia High boys’ water polo team would be an underdog in both of the Eagles’ games this week.
Estancia plays host to rival Costa Mesa on Wednesday at 3:15 p.m. in a Battle for the Bell game that will also decide the Orange Coast League title. First, the Eagles traveled north Tuesday to tangle with Tustin, a possible playoff opponent that is the top-ranked team in CIF Southern Section Division 6.
Estancia played close with Tustin for stretches, but the Tillers used a decisive second quarter to earn a 14-8 nonleague victory at home.
Senior Aidan Caporicci scored five goals and senior Edson Sandoval added four for Tustin (13-10). The Tillers scored the final six goals of the first half after Estancia senior Jake Blinn’s backhand goal early in the second quarter gave the Eagles a 3-2 lead.
“We played 21 minutes, not 28,” Frazier said. “In the second quarter, they outscored us 6-1, and that’s the difference in the game right there. The rest of the game was 8-7, and I’ll take an 8-7 game, but we let them score too many. That’s part of our problem. We have stretches where we play great, then we just let down. I mean, I’m happy with this game. I wanted it to be a little closer because they’re No. 1 in our division, but I think they realize that we’re better than they thought we were.”
Sophomore Logan Richard led No. 10 Estancia (15-10) with four goals. Sophomore Noah Gniffke added three goals for the Eagles, while Blinn added one. Sophomore goalkeeper Griffin Beth had 10 saves and also made four steals.
Estancia senior Jose Castaneda was ejected twice in the first half.
“He’s my primary set defender, and he’s fast, too,” Frazier said. “It’s tough when you lose him.”
I wanted it to be a little closer because they’re No. 1 in our division, but I think they realize that we’re better than they thought we were.
The Eagles did not give up. Richard scored all four of his goals in the third quarter, helping the Eagles pull within 11-7.
“[Tustin] kept saying that I wasn’t a shooter,” Richard said. “Their bench was saying that, to not worry about me, so that kind of motivated me to try to score as much as I can and show them we mean business. If we play them in CIF, they’ll know that we’re not just an easy team to blow off.”
Estancia almost got within three goals headed into the fourth quarter, but Tustin sophomore goalkeeper Scott Olsen was there to stop Gniffke’s counterattack shot with a second left in the quarter.
Tustin coach Kyle Brawley said the development of Olsen, a first-year starter who made six saves Tuesday, has been a key component of the Tillers’ success this season.
“We had a little bit of a slow start [against Estancia], but a big thing with our young gentlemen is just the confidence,” Brawley said. “They felt confident after the first quarter that we could play with this team. Then they weren’t afraid to take those risks, because they knew that their teammates were there for them.”
Laguna Beach’s move from the Orange Coast League to the Surf League has benefited the two Costa Mesa high schools. Both Costa Mesa and Estancia come into Wednesday’s game with 3-0 league records.
Frazier knows regardless of Wednesday’s outcome, his team has secured a Division 6 playoff spot with a top-two finish in the league. He said he mainly wants his players to keep the game against the Mustangs competitive. Costa Mesa has seven straight Battle for the Bell game victories.
“They’re Division 3, and we’re Division 6,” Richard said. “They’re a good team, for sure. I’ve played with a lot of them [in club], and I know how a lot of them work. I know it’s going to be a very tough game, but I’m more looking for it to be a fun game, because a lot of them are my friends.”