COSTA MESA — The leading scorers for the Estancia and Laguna Beach high school girls' basketball teams collided near the middle of the court.
Seniors Kassie Stratton and Emily Writer clunked heads Tuesday night at Estancia, both falling and laying on their backs.
Stratton got up first. It took longer for Writer to recover from the meeting of the minds, spending the rest of the game on the bench with an ice pack on the right side of her face.
The Eagles put their foot on the gas pedal with Writer out, dominating the second half to earn a 55-40 win in the Orange Coast League opener for both teams.
Senior Yesenia Maldonado and freshman Celia Duran each scored 15 for the Eagles (11-6, 1-0 in league). They also combined for eight steals as Estancia picked up its press defense in the second half.
"We kind of realized in the second quarter that we should have just pressed the whole game," Maldonado said. "In the second quarter, Coach [Xavier Castellano] was just like, 'Press them like crazy. Keep pressing, keep pressing.' And it worked."
In the first half it looked like Writer could hang with the Eagles. She went over her 21 points-per-game scoring average in the first half alone, scoring 22 to help the Breakers earn a 27-27 halftime tie.
Castellano was exasperated, coming to the scorer's table late in the second quarter to ask how many points Writer had and how many free throws [seven of eight]. He was afraid of what might transpire in the second half after he said the Eagles had a bad practice Monday.
"We ended [the practice] and we just let them know, 'If you're not focused, it's not going to be good,'" said Castellano, whose team is tied for No. 16 in the CIF Southern Section Division IV-A coaches' poll. "Especially our seniors, because they know better. Then the first play of the game [Writer] comes down and gets a lay-up and I say, 'What happened?'
"One of my players said, 'I forgot where she was.' You can't forget where she is."
But Writer stayed on 22. After she knocked heads with Stratton with 4:48 left in the third quarter, the Breakers (6-5, 0-1) were clearly outgunned.
A steal from Estancia senior Brenda Soto, one of her game-high seven, led to a lay-up for Maldonado to tie the score at 31-31. Then Duran, Soto and senior Kassie Stratton each got steals and lay-ups.
Duran made a three-pointer, giving the Breakers a seven-point lead going into the fourth quarter. They were in the midst of a 16-4 run, expanding the lead to 47-35 after Soto's last steal led to a lay-up for Maldonado.
Duran, the freshman, said she had butterflies the whole game in her first Orange Coast League contest. Still, on a team that started five seniors Tuesday, she remains confident.
"It's amazing," said Duran, whose 15 points matched her second-highest total of the season. "Ever since the summer, I've learned so much. They're not selfish. A lot of seniors could be like, 'Oh, a freshman? We're not going to talk to her. We're not going to pass the ball to her.' No, they're very nice. They just want what's best for our team. If it means passing the ball to a freshman then we'll do it, or just passing the ball to anybody, as long as we get the job done."
The Breakers did have an inside presence with senior center Sam Garner (four points, 13 rebounds and four blocks). But the Eagles' defense was too much.
Stratton, last year's Newport-Mesa Player of the Year who Castellano said has battled the flu recently, finished with nine points. So did senior Jenny Boldizar, all of her points coming on three makes from beyond the arc.
Each player also had three steals.
"We're going to win some games on the defensive end," Castellano said. "If we play defense, we're very good."
Estancia plays at two-time defending league champion Godinez on Thursday night. The Grizzlies were undefeated in league last year, handing Estancia both of its losses, although Costa Mesa defeated Godinez in another league-opening game Tuesday.
Orange Coast League
Estancia 55, Laguna Beach 40
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Laguna 13 – 14 – 6 – 7 — 40
Estanciat 9 – 18 – 13 – 15 — 55
LB – Writer 22, Walin 6, Even 5, Garner 4, Cowie 3.
3-pt. goals – Writer 3, Even 1, Cowie 1.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – None.
Est – Maldonado 15, Duran 15, Stratton 9, Boldizar 9, Soto 6, Stafford 1.
3-pt. goals – Duran 3, Boldizar 3, Maldonado 1, Stratton 1.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – None.