COSTA MESA — By the time the third round rolled around, the Estancia High boys' tennis team had already clinched Friday's Orange Coast League match against rival Costa Mesa.
The teenagers' interest was quickly diverted. A small, bright yellow bird followed Eagles junior Robert Marrone off the courts. Players and fans took turns admiring the bird and picking it up. Estancia Coach Carlos Beltran made a joke about feeding it to his cat.
In the rivalry match at home, his Eagles devoured the competition. The 13-5 victory in their regular-season finale helped the Eagles secure second place in the Orange Coast League.
"They came out ready to play, compared to what they looked like on Tuesday [in a 10-8 loss to Godinez]," Beltran said. "We just laid an egg against Godinez ... I almost think we needed that loss for them to wake up."
Marrone, as well as the No. 1 doubles team of Matt Thomas and Erik Cerros, set the tone in the opening round for the Eagles (11-7, 5-3 in league). Marrone won the last three games to edge Costa Mesa senior Michael Chantos, 7-5, at No. 1 singles. Thomas and Cerros edged Costa Mesa's No. 1 team of Tam Le and Max Nguyen, 6-4.
It was the first loss in league for Le and Nguyen.
"They lob a lot," Thomas said. "We just kind of got used to the lobbing and played against it."
Estancia swept the first round to grab a 6-0 lead. The Eagles had a 10-2 lead by the end of the second round and had clinched the match.
The loss dealt a blow to the playoff hopes of Costa Mesa (3-8, 3-4), which finished second in league last year. The Mustangs are tied for third place with Godinez, but the Grizzlies have a winnable match against Saddleback next week, while Mesa plays at first-place Laguna Beach in its regular-season finale Tuesday.
Only three teams from the league are guaranteed berths into the CIF Southern Section Division 4 playoffs.
Marrone swept his singles sets for Estancia, and junior Joseph Kidane nearly did as well. Kidane rallied from a 5-0 deficit against Chantos before falling in a tiebreaker, 7-6 (7-4).
Senior Jared Payzant and sub Max Hume also earned singles wins for the Eagles. Thomas and Cerros won two matches in doubles before Cerros was subbed out. The No. 2 team of senior Francisco Alvarez and junior Kaiman Brust, as well as the No. 3 pairing of freshmen Sterling Gates and Charlie Griffen, also won a pair of sets for Estancia.
With five juniors and two freshmen in the starting lineup for Estancia, the future also appears bright.
"It feels good," Marrone said of the Eagles' second-place finish in league, "but we're still going to be going for that first place next year. We've made a lot of progress. I think next year will be our strongest year."
Chantos did not play in the teams' first league meeting, which was also a 13-5 Estancia win. Coach Janet Migaki said it was due to an academic commitment.
On Friday Chantos won two of three singles sets for Mesa, and Le and Nguyen also won two of three doubles sets. The only other set the Mustangs were able to win was the last set on court, when Mike Nguyen and Thuan Trong defeated Thomas and Jose Herrera, 6-3.
Estancia now has more than a week to prepare for the league individual finals, which begin May 2. Some of the Eagles are heading north next week to watch the prestigious Ojai Tournament.
The Eagles are in the playoffs for the ninth straight year.
"There's a lot of guys who have improved a lot from last year," Beltran said. "I think the year experience on varsity last year really helped out."