COSTA MESA — With chaos all around her, Estancia High senior point guard Yesenia Maldonado stayed calm.
Trying to finish off an undefeated Orange Coast League season in a hostile gym, Maldonado didn't fret.
When the Eagles' leading scorer, Kassie Stratton, picked up three fouls in the first quarter, Maldonado stayed patient.
And, after Estancia had secured a 51-46 victory at cross-town rival Costa Mesa and got to ring the bell at mid-court, it was all worth it to the unassuming Maldonado.
"It's exciting," Maldonado said after scoring 17 points, her second-highest total of the season, to go along with 10 rebounds and six steals. "Oh my God. 10-0?"
The scene was perfect to all five key members of the Eagles' senior class, including Maldonado, Stratton, Brenda Soto, Jenny Boldizar and Vanessa Stafford. The Eagles made sure they were perfect too, finishing 10-0 in league after already clinching their first league title in eight years.
Co-Coach Xavier Castellano couldn't stop smiling for the team, or the point guard after one of her best games of the season in the second Battle for the Bell game.
"She has to put up with me," said Castellano, who played for Estancia before graduating in 1998. "I played point guard, so I expect the most out of her. And she's only been playing point guard for two years. Personally, I think she's the best point guard in the league. She led us today.
"Her, Brenda [Soto] and Kassie [Stratton] are captains. It's senior leadership."
Estancia (20-6) and second-place Costa Mesa (12-14, 7-3 in league) both advance to the CIF playoffs. Brackets will be released Sunday.
It was senior night at Costa Mesa High and the Mustangs played the familiar NCAA Tournament song, "One Shining Moment," during the senior introductions. For nearly the whole game, the Mustangs looked like they might be perfection-busters if not bracket-busters. They pushed the Eagles as they hadn't been pushed before in league.
The Eagles led, 15-7, after the first quarter but Stratton, who finished with a game-high 22 points, 10 rebounds and six steals, already had three fouls. She watched from the bench in the second quarter as her trend of missing big chunks of Costa Mesa games continued.
"It seems that I always foul Mesa," Stratton said. "I know coach doesn't get vey happy about that at all. Even my principal, Dr. [Kirk] Bauermeister, sees me in the hallways and tells me to keep my hands in my pockets … I'm working on it. It was all good, because I didn't get any fouls the rest of the game."
Costa Mesa stayed in the game behind the offensive production of three players: seniors Annie Sturm (13 points) and Itzel Flores (seven points) and sophomore guard Marilyn Armstrong (10 points).
Flores scored all seven of her points in the second quarter. She helped the Mustangs stay within striking distance, down 24-19, at halftime. Armstrong then scored the first nine points of the third quarter for the Mustangs, who pulled within one before an 11-1 spurt by Estancia.
But the Mustangs didn't go away, tying the game late in the third quarter on a lay-up from junior Nancy Aguilar. They got back within two points midway through the fourth on Sturm's lay-in that made the score 45-43, Estancia, with 3:25 to play.
But Stratton scored on a driving lay-up with less than two minutes left, then Soto collected one of her six steals. On an inbound play, Boldizar then threw a perfect pass from in front of her own bench to a cutting Stratton underneath the basket. The play gave the Eagles a six-point lead with 1:15 to go.
Castellano said the play that helped give the Eagles their 10th league win is called play 10.
"We love that play," he said. "That play is from back in the day. [Former Estancia boys' Coach Tim] O'Brien ran 10."
The Eagles were on their way, especially after Soto stole the ball again with a minute to go after Mesa had a miscommunication on an inbound play. The Mustangs scored the game's final points on Molly Settles' three-pointer with 32 seconds left, but couldn't get closer. Estancia freshman Celia Duran got the last steal, with 15 seconds left.
"We're a good team," Costa Mesa Coach Nichole Maddox said. "We've shown that all season, especially in league … We just have to stop turning the ball over. That's our biggest nemesis."
Stratton and Maldonado scored all 27 of Estancia's second-half points. They also were the first two players to ring the bell after helping Estancia beat Costa Mesa for the sixth straight time in league.
"I kept telling the team that we had to make that stop," Stratton said. "We did that in the end. We got the important steals, we got the important baskets, we ran the plays right. We just buckled down and put all our focus in. We all know how big of a deal this is, not only to us but to coach and our school."
Orange Coast League
Estancia 51, Costa Mesa 46
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Est 15 – 9 – 17 – 10 — 51
CM 7 – 12 – 20 – 7 — 46
Est – Stratton 22, Maldonado 17, Boldizar 8, Stafford 4.
3-pt. goals – Maldonado 1, Stratton 1, Boldizar 1.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – None.
CM – Sturm 13, Armstrong 10, Flores 7, Settles 5, Aguilar 4, Wase 3, Cerrato 2, Velasquez 2.
3-pt. goals – Wase 1.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – None.