Boys' Soccer Playoffs: Eagles return to playoffs

A day after his Estancia High boys' soccer team closed out the regular season last week, Coach Robert Castellano said he was still tough on his players.

Castellano reminded them that the real season begins this week.

The Eagles are back in the CIF Southern Section playoffs after a one-year hiatus. They start on the road Thursday at 3 p.m.

The other two local programs in the postseason open on the same day and time, but Corona del Mar is at home and Sage Hill is away.

Estancia (11-4-5) travels to Whittier to face La Serna (13-6-4) in a Division IV first-round match. Both teams finished second in their respective leagues, the Eagles in the Orange Coast League and the Lancers in the Del Rio League.

The Sea Kings (9-6-3) won the Pacific Coast League title and they play host to Don Lugo of Chino in a Division III first-round match. Don Lugo (12-6-2) placed third in the Mt. Baldy League.

The Lightning (9-5-0), who finished second in the Academy League, are at Beaumont (15-7-0) in a Division VI first-round match. Beaumont is the runner-up from the Mountain Pass League.

Sage Hill's trip to its match is the longest, 73 miles.

The Eagles' trip is less than half of that. Castellano, who believed his team deserved to play the opener at home, is happy to be back in the postseason.

"We have something to prove," said Castellano, who's in his third season in charge of the Eagles. "We're definitely hungry for this game.

"We can definitely make a run [in the playoffs], but we're taking it one game at a time."

Castellano is well aware that La Serna and Estancia have two common opponents: Saddleback and Costa Mesa, both from the Orange Coast League.

La Serna faced Saddleback twice in December, recording a 2-1 win and a 1-1 tie. Both results are impressive considering Saddleback won the Orange Coast League by going unbeaten.

The only team to tie Saddleback in league was Estancia, which also lost to the Roadrunners.

What surprises Castellano is that La Serna lost to Costa Mesa, 3-0, in December. Costa Mesa went on to finish fifth in league and missed the playoffs.

Chris Gomez, a junior striker, leads the Eagles with 10 goals and he has four assists. Senior Sean Bjelland anchors Estancia's defense.

The Eagles haven't lost any of their last seven matches.

The Sea Kings have a similarly impressive unbeaten stretch.

They are a completely different team, compared to the previous two seasons in which they reached the semifinals and the final.

Coach George Larsen might not boast the same talent as in his first two seasons, but he has CdM playing well.

Conor Roche is the team's top scorer and Matt Francini solidifies the midfield.

Jack Percival is Sage Hill's best threat. The senior came on strong in league play after sitting out the first four matches with a knee injury.

With Percival back, Coach Ignacio Cid has led the Lightning to the playoffs for the second straight season under his watch.

Twitter: @DCPenaloza

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