COSTA MESA — For three quarters of the Battle for the Bell boys' basketball rivalry game at Estancia High, it wasn't much of a battle. These games between the Eagles and Costa Mesa tend to favor the Eagles whenever they are at home.
The home team this time around was outhustled, outplayed, outrebounded and outscored. Not much was going right for the Eagles before the start of the fourth quarter on Wednesday.
That five-game winning streak at home against the Mustangs seemed over, until they made one last run. A 17-point deficit at the start of the final quarter was trimmed to four with 72 seconds left.
The surge is one Costa Mesa Coach Dan Krikorian said he expected. The last time he was in the Estancia gym, Krikorian was an assistant with the Mustangs, and he saw the Eagles bank in a game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer.
There would be no come-from-behind win in Krikorian's first visit as the Mustangs' head coach. His team never allowed Estancia to score again as Costa Mesa pulled away for a 56-47 win in an Orange Coast League opener.
"It's been a long time since we've been able to win over here," said Krikorian, whose team became the Mustangs' first to triumph at Estancia since the 2006-07 season. "[It's] always a really, really tough place for us to play."
What pushed the Mustangs (6-11, 1-0 in league) through was that losing streak at Estancia. They wanted to prove they could win at Estancia.
They almost left the Estancia gym the same way they did in last season's league finale, with their heads down after losing 33-32 and the league's No. 2 playoff berth. When it got tight on Wednesday, the Mustangs made sure to hold on at the end.
They could've made it a lot easier on themselves had they converted their free throws in the fourth quarter. The Mustangs only made six of 16 free throws in the fourth, but at the end, Daniel Azurin and Kyle Hefner each made one, pushing the lead to 53-47.
With 45 seconds left, it was still a two-possession game. That changed after a steal, which led to a Hefner layup, and another steal to put away Estancia (4-13, 0-1).
"It was kind of the pressure," Hefner said was the reason why Costa Mesa allowed the Eagles back in the game. "But we came back and played some good [defense].
"It's the first time that we beat them [at Estancia] in [six] seasons and its feels great."
Hefner and the Mustangs walked off the court winners. He finished with a game-high 16 points.
Three other Costa Mesa players finished in double figures — Azurin, Andrew Wright and Wyatt Ferris each had 10 points. Ferris also grabbed 14 rebounds and blocked three shots.
The rebounds, especially on the offensive end, were huge in Costa Mesa taking a 28-16 lead at halftime. Ferris, a 6-foot-4 senior, pulled down almost half of the Mustangs' 15 rebounds in the first half.
The rebounds led to second-chance points for Costa Mesa. Quinten Bell, a 6-4 junior, also pounded the boards for the Mustangs. All of Bell's six points in the second quarter were a result of three offensive rebounds and he finished with eight rebounds.
Carlos Beltran, the Eagles' interim coach, said he didn't think size was going to be an issue against his smaller team.
"We have to deal with it every time," said Beltran, whose team began to box out the Mustangs in the fourth quarter, helping Estancia rally.
Cloudy Jelks' play off the bench also contributed to the Eagles' comeback attempt. The athletic guard scored 10 of his team-high 13 points in the second half, including a layup that cut Mustangs' lead to 51-47 with 1:12 left to go.
Estancia guard Martin Harry also knocked down two threes in the fourth, the quarter in which he scored all of his eight points. Ben Beck had five of his seven points in the fourth.
"They don't quit. That's one thing that I love about these guys," said Beltran, whose Eagles have lost six of their last seven games. "We've been down by 20, 30, 40, it doesn't matter, they don't quit. They find a way to continue fighting."
The fight came late and it wasn't enough for the Eagles to extend their home winning streak against the Mustangs.
Orange Coast League
Costa Mesa 56, Estancia 47
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Mesa 12 – 16 – 15 – 13 — 56
Estancia 9 – 7 – 10 – 21 — 47
CM – Hefner 16, Ferris 10, Azurin 10, Wright 10, Bell 6, JeyaRajah 2, Comer 2.
3-pt. goals – Wright 2, Azurin 1.
Fouled out – Bell.
Technicals – None.
E – Jelks 13, Mendoza 9, Harry 8, Beck 7, Jarmacz 4, Hubbard 2, Ponce 2, Stillman 2.
3-pt. goals – Jelks 2, Harry 2, Mendoza 1.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – None.