As a Costa Mesa High player, Mike Molina won the Battle for the Bell boys’ basketball rivalry three times in four seasons.
He can now say he has led the Mustangs past their cross-town nemesis as their head coach.
Beating Estancia as a player and a coach is all the same to Molina, it means a lot. He grew up in Costa Mesa, playing basketball since he was 6 years old.
Seventeen years later, in his debut season in charge, Molina’s Mustangs showed they are the city’s best team after thumping host Estancia, 68-52, in an Orange Coast League game on Wednesday night.
“It’s a great feeling coming back and winning something for your hometown,” Molina said. “All I want is to make our fans and our players proud.”
The Mustangs have a lot to cheer about this season because of Molina.
Players relate to the 23-year-old coach. He understands them and they understand him. All of this adds up to success and Costa Mesa (17-7, 5-2 in league) is now two wins shy of tying the school’s single-season record for wins.
The Mustangs also claimed the rivalry against Estancia for the third straight season. The last time they won it three seasons in a row was from 2004-05 to 2006-07. Those last two seasons Molina played for the Mustangs. Four members of Molina’s coaching staff, his brother, Brian Molina, and Tony Krikorian, Phil Weber and Adam Gardner, also played a part during the previous run.
The coaches let the players ring the trophy near half court on Wednesday. And to Kyle Hefner, it felt good to do it on Estancia’s court, three weeks after the Eagles traveled to Costa Mesa and pulled off a 53-50 upset.
The Mustangs kept the bell, even though they split the two-game series with Estancia (7-16, 2-5). They won their game by more points.
Four Costa Mesa players, Hefner (23 points), Eunsan Mo (14), Sean Comer (12) and Mason Tufuga (10), finished in double figures. They combined for 10 of the team’s 11 three-pointers. Hefner and Mo led the team with four threes apiece and they combined to only miss one three.
This time Costa Mesa, which remained in second place in league, gave the Eagles a dose of their own medicine. In January’s matchup, Estancia nailed 13 threes, including eight of 11 threes in the second half.
The Eagles failed to shoot lights out from behind the arc the second time around. They live and die by the three.
“Last time that’s what we did and we dodged a bullet,” said Estancia Coach Agustin Heredia, whose team made only three of 15 three-pointers in the second half and finished eight of 26. “We just couldn’t defend. They got to the basket. We couldn’t stop penetration and the penetration led to easy shots, and they hit their shots. They kicked us around.”
The Eagles remained tied for fourth place in league with Calvary Chapel.
Josh Mendoza led Estancia with 14 points and four threes. Kaena McReynolds added three threes and finished with 11 points.
The only bright spot for the Eagles came at halftime, when the school honored its former athletes of the year. They went all the way back to 1967 and up to last school year.
Eighteen showed up and the Eagles could’ve used some of those former players against Costa Mesa. The current Eagles just couldn’t stop the Mustangs from owning the city’s bragging rights for the third consecutive season.
Orange Coast League
Costa Mesa 68, Estancia 52
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Costa Mesa 12 – 21 – 20 – 15 — 68
Estancia 7 – 15 – 12 – 18 — 52
CM – Hefner 23, Mo 14, Comer 12, Tufuga 10, Azurin 8, Montgomery 1.
3-pt. goals – Hefner 4, Mo 4, Comer 2, Azurin 1.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – None.
E – Mendoza 14, McReynolds 11, Harry 9, Barries 4, Lawrence 4, Johnston 3, Tolliver 3, Brown 2, Haddouch 2.
3-pt. goals – Mendoza 4, McReynolds 3, Johnston 1.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – None.