COSTA MESA — The Estancia High girls' soccer team walked off the field not looking like the outright Orange Coast League champion.
All the Eagles needed to do Thursday night was tie Costa Mesa and the league crown was all theirs. But they wanted to beat their cross-town rival in the league finale.
The match ended in a 1-1 tie at Jim Scott Stadium. When the Eagles reached the sideline, Coach Jessica Gatica spoke up.
She gave them a few words that lifted their spirits.
"We couldn't beat Mesa," Gatica said, "but [the Mustangs] can't go to the playoffs!"
The players broke out in a cheer and smiles. They earned the right to after Gatica said Estancia claimed the program's first outright league championship since 1993.
Seniors like Erin O'Neil and Jackie Freiberger were born in 1993. They are 17 years old now and vital parts of the team.
"It was meant to be," Freiberger said of her class being the next one to bring a league title to Estancia.
The league title run was almost perfect, except for one loss and two ties.
Costa Mesa was the lone team in league to knock off Estancia (13-4-3, 7-1-2 in league). The Eagles went into the second match between these two programs focused.
And they dominated for much of the evening and recorded the first goal. O'Neil headed in a goal off a corner kick by Isela Garcia in the 28th minute.
The defense did its part, allowing just three shots on goal.
One of those led to a Costa Mesa goal by Sami Feinstein late in the first half. The score coming off a corner kick was all the Mustangs needed to even the match.
The Eagles were not about to drop another one to the Mustangs (4-3-3 in league). They pushed the tempo, keeping Costa Mesa on its heels.
That second goal just never came.
Costa Mesa goalkeeper Whitney McAleer played a big role in slowing down Estancia, making 10 saves. McAleer got in the way of the Eagles on Jan. 25 on the same field, where the Mustangs pulled off a 1-0 upset of Estancia.
"We gave them that opportunity. I hope they totally enjoyed it," Gatica said. "But at the end of the day, I really want to thank Costa Mesa for beating us that day. Them beating us lit a fire under our butts and got us going, and propelled us into the league championship.
"Had Costa Mesa not beat us, I don't know things would've panned out."
The setback fired up Estancia and it never loss in league again.
The program will get rewarded for bouncing back strong on Monday, when the section releases the playoff pairings.
The Eagles will open the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division IV playoffs at home next week.
Gatica is happy to start the postseason at home for the first time under her watch. In her previous two seasons, she led the Eagles on the road in the opening round and each time they won.
In the next round, Estancia faced a top seed and fell. Gatica can avoid the top guns early on.
A couple of things Gatica was not able to dodge Wednesday was the yellow card and seeing one of her players get hurt.
Heather Flores went down with an ankle injury eight minutes into the second half. Flores had to be carried off the field after taking a serious blow. The junior never returned.
"I think she'll be OK," said Gatica of Flores, one of the Eagles' top scoring threats. "My whole thing and frustration was the safety of my players."
Gatica let her frustrations out on one of the referees with 20 minutes left to play.
The ref issued Gatica a yellow card and she quickly settled down. She could not afford another yellow card because she and the Eagles are playoff bound, while the Mustangs are unlikely after they did not earn one of the league's three automatic playoff berths.
"It's very, very satisfying to know that we squashed other people's hopes and dreams in our own personal gain," Gatica said. "I know that they would've gotten just as much satisfaction out of ruining something for us."