COSTA MESA — The Estancia High girls’ basketball team picked a bad time to play its worst game of the season.
Twenty-one points is all the Eagles managed to score in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division 3A playoffs. They have struggled shooting all season, but never like Thursday’s contest at home.
Despite converting just six field goals, Estancia still had a shot to beat Azusa. The Aztecs shot slightly better and it was enough for the at-large team to pull off a 25-21 victory.
“I’ve never seen us shoot that bad,” Coach Xavier Castellano said of his Eagles, who made six of 56 field-goal attempts.
“I think if this was a regular-season game we would’ve played differently. But because the word playoffs … there’s that extra pressure.”
Only one player went into the game with playoff experience for the Eagles.
It took Azusa Coach Jesse Mejia a couple of minutes to figure out who that player was. Mejia said he knew nothing about the Eagles before the game.
Celia Duran stood out.
"[Estancia] looks like a one-girl team,” Mejia said.
Duran finished with 11 points, more than half of Estancia’s points.
The sophomore tried to rally her team in the second half, producing six of the Eagles’ nine points. That wasn’t enough, even against an Azusa program, which entered the evening with five wins.
The Aztecs (6-21) had to petition the section to qualify for the postseason. They finished seventh in the eight-team Montview League.
“We were lucky enough to get in, but I know we’re a solid team,” said Mejia, whose team went into the postseason on a five-game skid. “I knew if we got in, we could get maybe a [win] or two.”
The Aztecs got the first victory. Their next chance at another one will be on the road, at fifth-seeded Atascadero (16-8), in the second round.
Estancia (14-13) fell short of reaching the second round for the second straight season. Before the season, Castellano said he didn’t expect much, not after losing last season’s entire starting lineup.
“If you would’ve told me we were going to win 14 games, battle for second place [in the Orange Coast League] and have a chance to win a first-round playoff game, I wouldn’t have believed it,” Castellano said.
Castellano began believing his team might be able to get past Azusa. The Eagles were always within striking distance.
Bryanna Vernon pulled them even with the Aztecs at 20-20 by nailing her second three-pointer with 3:18 left to play. The basket was the team’s first since Duran hit a three at the 6:14 mark in the third quarter.
But 18 seconds after Vernon’s big three, Azusa answered. Alijah Montiel knocked down a three to push the Aztecs’ lead back to three.
“That was killer,” Castellano said. “You saw how hard it was to get shots and they hit that.”
The shot from behind the arc was Azusa’s only successful one.
The Aztecs then went up, 25-20, with 78 seconds left on a layup by Brittany Sanchez, who led Azusa with 10 points. It was the first basket by Sanchez since the first half.
Estancia’s biggest threat, Duran, cut the deficit to four at the free-throw line with less than a minute to go. But she fouled out a couple of seconds later, surprising Castellano, who was never told by the scorekeeper that Duran was playing with four fouls.
“It’s my fault. I should’ve told her to tell me,” Castellano said. “We never had that problem.”
The Eagles had never been held to 21 points in a game, either.
CIF Southern Section Division 3A
Azusa 25, Estancia 21
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Azusa 6 – 7 – 5 – 7 — 25
Estancia 2 – 10 – 3 – 6 — 21
A – Sanchez 10, Montiel 6, Afati 5, Chavez 4.
3-pt. goals – Montiel 1.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – None.
E – Duran 11, Vernon 6, Jason 4.
3-pt. goals – Duran 2, Vernon 2.
Fouled out – Duran.
Technicals – None.