Mesa's Miller time

COSTA MESA — Darian Miller said she heard the crowd and felt the punches to the face.

Miller did not receive the warmest greeting in her return to Estancia High Tuesday. She was now a member of the school's rival, Costa Mesa.

When her feet touched the soccer ball, fans yelled, "Traitor! Traitor!" When she dribbled for too long, a former classmate at Estancia kept fouling her hard.

Miller finally struck back with seven minutes left to play. She used her left foot to knock off the Eagles at Jim Scott Stadium.

The junior scored the game-winning goal, elevating Costa Mesa to a 1-0 victory and handing Estancia its first Orange Coast League setback. The Eagles walked off the field stunned.

They expected to be 5-0 in league play. A sign with that record hung on Estancia's side before the match started.

After 80 minutes of play, the sign ended up in Miller's hands. A teammate grabbed what was left of the sign. Miller knew what to do with it.

"I'm going to tear it up because they're not 5-0," Miller said.

"It was motivating me to kick their [butt] even harder. Just to shove it in their face, which we did."

Miller proved to be the difference maker in helping the Mustangs beat Estancia for the first time since Jan. 31, 2008.

Miller said she spent only half of her sophomore year at Estancia. The striker said she left because she did not like the school.

This is Miller's first season playing high school girls' soccer. Costa Mesa Coach Dan Johnston is glad to have her because the Mustangs are back in the hunt to contend for a league title.

Costa Mesa closes the first round of league with two straight victories and is now 3-2 in league, one game behind Estancia in the standings. The two teams last won a league crown in 2008-09, when they shared it that season.

The Eagles are tied once again atop the league after missing an opportunity to remain alone in first place. They are 4-1, tied with Calvary Chapel.

It was not supposed to play out that way, not after the Eagles controlled most of the action and created the most scoring chances.

"I am 100% unimpressed with my team right now," Estancia Coach Jessica Gatica said. "All we did [Monday during practice] was shooting. [My players] bought into the hype. They were, 'Oh, we're going to do this. Oh, we're going to do that,' and then they cracked under pressure. We gave up a really soft goal. We had plenty of opportunities to put it away early."

The missed opportunities came back to bite Estancia.

Credit Costa Mesa goalkeeper Whitney McAleer and the defenders in front of her, Scarlett Zambrano, Shaylen McNulty, Hunter Strodel, for preventing the Eagles from finding the back of the net.

The Mustangs withstood Estancia's best scoring chances, a 30-yard blast by Jackie Freiberger in the first half, and another of her shots from outside the box in the second half. When Freiberger, on the left side, just outside the box, sent a cross on a set piece to Erin O'Neil, Costa Mesa survived. The ball appeared to go off O'Neil's shoulder and out of play.

Despite being fortunate that the match was scoreless, Johnston said he felt the Mustangs were on their way to producing a goal. That moment came late, when the ball found the feet of Belinda Gonzalez on the right side.

Miller sprinted toward the goal, finding herself in between defenders. She yelled to Gonzalez, "Cross it! Cross it! Cross it!"

Gonzalez heard her loud and clear. The cross was on target, all Miller had to do was beat the defenders to the ball and then the keeper. It was a bang-bang play, and she went top shelf to finish it.

"I just told myself that I better make it or I practically let down the whole school," said Miller, who silenced her former school by delivering the biggest blow.

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