Estancia bows out

COSTA MESA — The Artesia High boys' soccer team played the ball ahead late in the first half, and an Estancia defender seemed to commit a hand-ball penalty.

Estancia Coach Robert Castellano said his team may have watched the play for just a second, expecting the call.

Artesia junior forward Alejandro Martinez did no such thing.

"He's a kid that doesn't stop," Artesia Coach Rudy Magallon said.

Martinez kept playing, gaining possession as no whistle was blown. The only thing he was stopping was the Eagles' season.

His subsequent goal from the right side in the 35th minute was all the visiting Pioneers would need. The No. 2 seeds survived a spirited effort from Estancia to win the CIF Southern Section Division 4 second-round match, 1-0, at Jim Scott Stadium.

The atmosphere was good, with the teams playing under the lights and sizable crowds on each side. Castellano still did not see his team's play rise to that challenge in the first half, and it eventually hurt the Eagles (12-5-5).

"We were a little shellshocked in the first half," Castellano said. "We knew they were good, but I think we gave them a little too much respect in the first half. Every time they touched the ball, we didn't put enough pressure on them. And every time we touched the ball, they put a bunch of pressure on us."

Estancia was unable to penetrate the defense of the Suburban League champion Pioneers (22-1-1) in the opening 40 minutes. Only two free kicks from senior Carlos Barrios came close.

Martinez's goal hurt the Eagles. They were further hurt in the closing minutes of the half when senior defender Sean Bjelland took a kick to the face. Castellano said the starting center back and captain suffered a concussion, and he did not play in the second half.

Estancia proved resilient. A back line featuring players like seniors Baggio Dominguez and Wesley Peña, as well as juniors Cristian Montillo and Alex Esquivel, shut out Artesia in the second half. Junior goalie Enrique Salazar made five saves, none bigger than one he made from the ground in the 61st minute.

Salazar was knocked down by an initial shot, and the ball deflected right to Martinez. But, from the ground, Salazar somehow made the second stop as well.

"Everybody else stepped up pretty big in the back," Castellano said. "Our defense worked hard and they were very resilient."

Chris Gomez and Moreno worked to create chances for the Eagles. Free kicks from Alan Anaya and Moreno just missed, curving just right or left of the goal. Although unable to find the equalizer, Estancia played the second half more even.

"I think we were nervous [at first]," Dominguez said. "We were playing the No. 2 seed. Come on. We were unranked coming in, and they won league and they were [21-1-1]. We've never played a team this good. [But] if it wasn't for that mistake, I think we could have had 'em. We had 'em; just unlucky."

Artesia nearly added another goal late in the game, as Jose Garcia's free kick found the left corner of the net. But the referee took it away.

"He said it was indirect, but I didn't see [the referee's] hand up," Magallon said. "Usually, when it's indirect, they raise their hand. That's why we took it direct."

Estancia just ran out of time. But Castellano said he was proud of his team's season, which included a second-place finish in the Orange Coast League. Last year, Estancia finished last in league and failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 2004.

"I'm sorry to see the seniors go," Castellano said. "I wanted the kids to prove something for themselves, that they were a lot better than they showed last year. We had a lot of returners, and they definitely turned it around from last year. It was a totally different team. I'm very, very proud of them."

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