Agustin Heredia is back on the bench as the coach of the Estancia High boys' basketball team. He took last season off for personal reasons.
Before the Eagles opened Orange Coast League play, Heredia joked that he should've stayed away another year. You wouldn't blame him. His team went into Wednesday's matchup at rival Costa Mesa with six straight losses.
To top things off, Costa Mesa has its best team Heredia said he has seen or coached against. Right away, he saw his Eagles fall behind, by as many as 14 points. In the opening quarter, Heredia twice called timeouts, telling his players to keep fighting.
The Eagles kept plugging away, cutting the deficit each quarter, before taking their first lead with 31/2 minutes left to play. The three-point shot proved to be Estancia's best chance to upset Costa Mesa in a packed gym.
The Eagles made 13 threes to pull off a 53-50 win against the No. 12-ranked team in CIF Southern Section Division 4AA.
"Geez! That's a team I don't recognize," Heredia said of his Eagles, who rallied to take the first game in the two-game Battle for the Bell series against the Mustangs.
The Eagles (6-11, 1-0 in league) are one victory away from matching last season's win total. They stole one from Costa Mesa, which went into the evening with its second 12-5 start in three seasons.
Mike Molina, in his first season as Costa Mesa's coach, hoped to get an early birthday gift from his Mustangs (12-6, 0-1). Before Molina turned 23 on Thursday, the Eagles ruined Molina's special day.
"Happy Birthday!" Heredia said with a smile.
Heredia, in his sixth season in charge of his alma mater, could smile after his team was red hot from behind the arc, shooting 56%. The Eagles went four for four on threes in the fourth quarter, and eight for 11 in the second half.
Martin Harry knocked down a three in the final quarter, as did Gunnar Johnston, his fourth of the game to finish with 16 points, and then it was Kaena McReynolds' turn. It was McReynolds' third triple that put Estancia ahead, 48-47, its first lead.
Defensively, Estancia slowed down the Mustangs the rest of the way. Johnston, with a one-point lead, swatted a Sean Comer shot near the baseline with 2:12 to go. Twenty-two seconds later, Estancia guard Josh Mendoza nailed an off-balance three-pointer to push the lead to 51-47. Mendoza finished with 14 points and four threes.
With 1:44 left, the Mustangs called a timeout. They came back with a three-point air ball.
The missed opportunity didn't hurt Costa Mesa. Comer gave his Mesa team another chance by coming away with a steal and calling a timeout while on the floor with 57 seconds left.
After the timeout, Costa Mesa went to Kyle Hefner. As he did for most of the game, the guard came through. The senior hit a three-pointer, his fifth three-point play, giving him a game-high 30 points and making it a 51-50 game with 45 seconds left.
Harry, who spent a lot of time guarding Hefner and getting into early foul trouble, delivered for Estancia. The quick-dribbling guard slashed toward the basket, faking a pass to the right, before laying the ball in to give him 10 points and extend the Eagles' lead to three.
The clock ran and the Mustangs brought the ball up the court in a hurry. They got off two three-point attempts, each missed. The smallest player on the court, the 5-foot-5 Harry, grabbed the rebound on the second miss. With less than a second left, the Eagles were about to end two skids: the one this season, and the one against Costa Mesa, which swept the rivalry last season for the first time since the 2006-07 season.
"I think we just kind of went away from staying together as a team and the things we've been doing well all year," Molina said of the fourth quarter in which Costa Mesa made only two of 12 shots and one of eight threes. "Their players did a great job of knocking down big shots when they needed to.
"It was exciting. The crowd was electric, both sides. Our fans were going crazy. Their fans were going crazy. It was a fun atmosphere. You sit there during a timeout, and for a second, you would kind of reflect on where you're at. But at the end of the day it hurts."
Orange Coast League
Estancia 53, Costa Mesa 50
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Estancia 5 – 16 – 14 – 18 — 53
Costa Mesa 19 – 12 – 11 – 8 — 50
Est – Johnston 16, Mendoza 14, Harry 10, McReynolds 9, Brown 2, Ponce 2.
3-pt. goals – Johnston 4, Mendoza 4, McReynolds 3, Harry 2.
Fouled out – None.
CM – Hefner 30, Comer 7, Tufuga 4, Bell 3, Crenshaw 2, Azurin 2, Mo 1, Ko 1.
3-pt. goals – Hefner 4.
Fouled out – None.