COSTA MESA — Before the biggest game of the season so far, Vanessa Stafford and her teammates on the Estancia High girls' basketball team were calm.
She said Co-Coach Xavier Castellano told the Eagles not to believe the hype leading up to the first Battle for the Bell game, even if outright first place was on the line.
Castellano got his point across.
Stafford got more points than ever before.
She scored a career-high 10 as the Eagles won the big Orange Coast League game going away, 61-34, Tuesday night at Estancia High.
Estancia (15-6, 5-0 in league), trying to win its first league title in eight years, moves into the top spot by itself as the first round of league comes to a close. Costa Mesa (9-12, 4-1) drops to second.
"We knew what was on the line," Stafford said. "We were just trying to keep our cool and be humble about the situation."
Castellano thought his team's balanced team effort was cool. It helped the Eagles win their fifth straight bell game. Estancia had four players (Kassie Stratton, Yesenia Maldonado, Stafford and freshman Celia Duran) in double figures. Seniors Brenda Soto and Jenny Boldizar each added nine points.
"That's what I like the most," Castellano said. "I have no idea who our leading scorer was."
It was Stratton with 12 points. She scored eight of them during a first-quarter blitz that had Estancia up 22-6 at one point, but missed nearly half the game in foul trouble.
Castellano is used to not having last year's Newport-Mesa Player of the Year against Costa Mesa, although she dropped 35 on the Mustangs in the league finale a season ago.
"The thing with Mesa games is that her first two years, she was in foul trouble," he said. "Last year, she had a concussion."
He watched others step up after Stratton picked up her fourth foul early in the third quarter on a drive to the basket by Mesa sophomore guard Marilyn Armstrong. The Eagles were up, 37-22, at the time, yet they outscored the Mustangs, 13-7, the rest of the quarter to put the game out of reach.
Boldizar hit two of her trio of three-pointers in the quarter. Soto scored four of her points, after recording two of her game-high six steals.
"Kassie is a really good player on our team, but all 14 players can play," Soto said. "That helps a lot. And our defense — that's Estancia."
The Eagles, tied for 16th in the CIF Southern Section Division IV-A poll, never let their lead get less than eight points after opening up the double-digit advantage in the first quarter. Mesa Coach Nichole Maddox was certainly hoping for a better start from her team than seven turnovers in the first five minutes of the game.
"I think it's just the mental [aspect] of the rivalry," Maddox said. "It seems to happen, at least the last couple of years that I've been here. The rivalry just does something to them mentally, because physically we're a lot better team than we played today. Our record proves it."
Now only Estancia's record is unbeaten in league.
"League's our goal every year, and we don't quit until we get there," Stratton said. "We've been doing really well in league so far, so we just have to do equally as well the second [time] through league."
Senior Annie Sturm led the Mustangs with 10 points and seven rebounds. Armstrong had seven points, nine rebounds and five steals.
Orange Coast League
Estancia 61, Costa Mesa 34
SCORE BY QUARTERS
CM 10 – 12 – 7 – 5 — 34
Est 22 – 12 – 16 – 11 — 61
CM – Sturm 10, Armstrong 7, Flores 6, Wase 4, Cerrato 4, Settles 2, Aguilar 1.
3-pt. goals – Wase 1.
Fouled out – Flores.
Technicals – None.
Est – Stratton 12, Maldonado 11, Stafford 10, Duran 10, Soto 9, Boldizar 9.
3-pt. goals – Boldizar 3, Soto 1.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – None.