COSTA MESA — The Estancia High girls' basketball team made many big plays in the second half Thursday night.
Two of the biggest were a three-pointer by a sick senior who missed her previous five three-pointers, and a lefty floater by another senior who is right-handed.
That resourcefulness might sum up the Eagles' season in a nutshell. In crunch time, they have found the way to get it done.
They came through again when it mattered most on their home court, taking a scrappy 44-38 win over district rival Corona del Mar in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division IV-A playoffs.
Estancia Co-Coach Xavier Castellano said senior point guard Yesenia Maldonado, senior guard Jenny Boldizar and key reserve Celia Duran, a freshman, all had the flu. By the end of the night, all made plays to leave the Sea Kings feeling sick.
No. 12-seeded Estancia will play at No. 5 Duarte in the second round Saturday night. Duarte beat El Segundo, 64-41, in another first-round game.
It meant a lot for the Eagles seniors to win their first playoff game in their time in the program. It also meant a lot for the Eagles (21-6) to beat CdM (9-18); the Sea Kings had beat Estancia five straight times over the last three years.
"We have a list of goals," said Castellano, whose Eagles won their first playoff game since 2003. "Every year I ask the girls what their goal is. Of course our goal was to win league. Another goal was to win a playoff game. Another goal, because we always play CdM every year, was to get CdM this year."
He watched the Eagles accomplish the second and third goals on the same night, winning their 13th straight game.
Boldizar made the first big play, nailing a three-pointer from the corner on a pass from Maldonado to end the third quarter. It gave Estancia a 35-27 lead and some breathing room headed into the fourth quarter.
Senior guard Brenda Soto made the second one. Her floater in the lane was her only basket of the game, but gave Estancia a 42-38 advantage with a minute to go.
"[Estancia Co-Coach Judd] Fryslie was always telling me to go to the basket," Soto said. "They focus on most of the main players, so they leave me and [Vanessa] Stafford wide open."
The Eagles needed everyone to step up, especially after senior Kassie Stratton fouled out with 3:05 left in the game. Stratton had team-highs of 16 points and seven rebounds to go with her four steals.
It further agitated a restless crowd after two calls didn't go in CdM's favor. Coach Mark Decker was incredulous after senior post player Gaby Rapp, who led the team with 10 points, fouled out with just over five minutes to go for reaching in on Stratton. He turned more upset a minute later, after senior Saylor Schroff appeared to have position but was called for a blocking foul on Stratton.
The Eagles didn't let anything get to them. Soto came up big again right after her basket, making her game-high sixth steal along the far sideline. She then fed the ball to Maldonado, who found Stafford, a senior post player.
Stafford was hacked but made two free throws, and the Eagles were up by six with 41 seconds left and on their way.
"I think we were all thinking very positive and doing this for each other," Duran, who had five points, said of Stratton fouling out. "We've got Kassie's back. Xavy was telling us that we all have to do it. If we were focused before the fourth quarter, we had to be even more [focused] when Kassie got that foul.
"It felt like if we weren't, it was just going to slip out of our hands. We felt like we couldn't do that for Kassie, for the team, or just for Estancia."
Stafford had eight points, six coming in the first quarter. The Eagles established an 18-8 lead early in the second quarter before CdM rallied.
Schroff was another standout for CdM, with nine points, seven rebounds and four steals. The Sea Kings were without the services of senior guard Kayla Marolt, a Daily Pilot Dream Team selection in 2009 before tearing her ACL the following summer.
Marolt has played this year but was not at Thursday's game. Decker declined to elaborate on the reason, but Marolt said in a Facebook message that she was asked to sit out CIF due to missed practices over the course of the season.
"That was the most we've battled all year," said Decker, whose team went 0-10 in the Pacific Coast League and ends the year on a 13-game losing streak. "I'm very proud of our effort … it takes a lot of character. We've been beaten up in league.
"[Estancia] deserved it. They made plays."
Finally beating the Sea Kings was definitely sweet to the Eagles.
"They've beat us many times before," Stafford said. "But we beat them when it really mattered."
CIF Southern Section
Estancia 44, Corona del Mar 38
SCORE BY QUARTERS
CdM 8 – 12 – 7 – 11 — 38
Est 16 – 6 – 13 – 9 — 44
CdM – Rapp 10, Schroff 9, Wilson 8, de Arakal 6, Coffman 3, Gaughan 2.
Fouled out – Schroff, Rapp.
Est – Stratton 16, Stafford 8, Boldizar 7, Maldonado 6, Duran 5, Soto 2.
3-pt. goals – Stratton 1, Boldizar 1.
Fouled out – Stratton.