Estancia boys' soccer rallies to tie Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach High scored three goals in the first 21 minutes and netted a fourth at the start of the second half Thursday evening, a big step toward cementing its hold on the top spot in the Orange Coast League's race after just three boys’ soccer games.

The thing is nobody is likely to take control of this race for a few weeks. There are five teams who believe they can claim the title, and visiting Estancia, one of them, made that clear in the final half-hour, roaring back to claim a 4-4 draw on a last-minute corner kick.

Luis Millan's shot through a crowded goalmouth gave the Eagles (7-4-5 overall, 1-0-2 in league) a precious point in a wild clash that balanced sensational attacking play with defensive miscues and featured violent shifts in momentum.

“That was a crazy game, huh?” Estancia coach Robert Castellano said.

Yes, it was.

Jet Rocha scored twice and offensive sparkplug Carson Cushing netted a brilliant opening goal before assisting two more for Laguna Beach (7-3-2, 2-0-1), which watched a 4-1 lead disappear on goals four minutes apart by Charlie Segura and Angel Ortiz that set up a raucous final 25 minutes.

“It was an exciting game. Really exciting,” Breakers coach Dan Richards said. “Just two teams trying to play attacking football. Exciting, but ultimately defensive errors cost you.”

The Breakers were dangerous going forward all night, but its defense withered down the stretch as Estancia found its stride 10 minutes into the second half, and the draw cost them sole possession of first place.

Costa Mesa (8-1-1, 2-0-1) pulled out a 1-0 win over Godinez (4-5-3, 0-2-1), which is slumping after winning CIF Southern Section titles the last two seasons, to pull even and make Friday's showdown at Laguna Beach a big one.

Every game is big this year, and this one — after Estancia rallied from an early deficit to beat Saddleback in a league opener and then fought back for a draw with Godinez — was emblematic of just how tight the race is going to be.

“It's really a close league this year,” Richards said. “Everyone will think they can win [the title]. I know when people think about the big leagues in the area, they talk about the Sunset League and Trinity League. Our league is just as competitive as those leagues.”

Cushing fired Laguna Beach ahead in the 11th minute, sending a bending shot from beyond the box on the right flank into the far-post netting. Eight minutes later, Marcos Randup nodded Cushing's corner kick home, and Rocha made it 3-0 from Cushing's feed two minutes after that.

Estancia, which was outshot 18-12, and conceded 11 corner kicks, labored to find connections in its attacking third, but Nico Ramirez finished a Andy Martinez pass from a counterattack in the 29th minute.

I'm proud of them, [but] we shouldn't be letting up four goals.

Estancia coach Robert Castellano

Rocha scored in the 46th as the Breakers countered following an Estancia corner. Goalkeeper Victor Jacinto knocked down his first shot, but it ricocheted off Rocha and bounced into the net. Segura's goal, on a rebound after Laguna Beach failed to clear a cross, gave the Eagles life. Ortiz's arcing header from a Sergio Gutierrez cross made it 4-3.

“We didn't wake up until the second half,” Castellano said. “They outplayed us for longer periods of time, and these kids finally woke up the last 30 minutes and they fought back. I'm proud of them, [but] we shouldn't be letting up four goals.”

Millan scored the equalizer from midbox after Laguna Beach could knock down but not clear Aaron's Neri's corner kick.

“A few mistakes at the back,” Richards said. “It happens. Not the end of the world, but disappointed. ... If we make mistakes like that, we don't deserve to win the league. If we cut out those mistakes, we believe we can beat any team in this league. I'm sure Estancia feels the same.”

SCOTT FRENCH is a contributor to Times Community News. Follow him on Twitter: @ScottJFrench