SANTA ANA — How can a team that is unbeaten in league at this point of the season be in danger of missing the playoffs?
Welcome to the 2012-13 Estancia High girls' soccer season.
The Eagles put forth another big effort Thursday afternoon at Saddleback High, battling the Roadrunners to a scoreless tie. But the difference between three points for a win and one point for a tie becomes more and more obvious as the Orange Coast League schedule hits the home stretch.
The ties are getting a bit ridiculous for Estancia (6-2-12, 2-0-6 in league), which remains tied for second in league with Saddleback (9-4-5, 3-2-3) with 12 points. Later Thursday, at least Estancia was helped out by its cross-town rival.
Last-place Costa Mesa upset Calvary Chapel, 1-0, at Jim Scott Stadium. The result dropped Calvary (3-3-2 in league) into fourth place, with 11 points.
Only the top three teams in league are guaranteed spots into the CIF Southern Section Division 4 playoffs. Estancia has the most difficult schedule of any league team in the final week of the regular season, playing host to first-place Godinez on Tuesday before facing Calvary Chapel on Thursday at Centennial Park.
Estancia Coach Jessica Perry, whose teams have made the playoffs in each of her four seasons as coach, said she doesn't like her team's chances for an at-large CIF berth. However, CdM Coach Bryan Middleton, who is a CIF Southern Section Division 1 advisory committee member, said Thursday that teams that have applied for an at-large playoff berth with a .500 overall record have not been denied recently.
"Our league is not ranked very high in CIF, so I don't know if that does us any favors or not," Perry said. "And we don't have many wins in league, so that doesn't help us either. Our best bet is just earning it the old-fashioned way. I think we can do it, though. I have full confidence that we can win the next two games. It's not going to be easy, but I think it's possible."
Despite no losses in league, Estancia also has not beaten any team other than Costa Mesa. Thursday's match was the second straight scoreless tie with Saddleback.
Estancia shined defensively, never letting Saddleback junior forwards Lilibeth Torres (19 goals this season) and Maritssa Perez (11 goals) get going. Solid defense from seniors Marlene Calderon and Shantel Romero, freshman Brandi White and sophomore keeper Caitlin Leahy (six saves) helped the Eagles.
"They don't give an inch back there," Saddleback Coach David Lopez said. "They never lose their structure ... They're tying a lot because of the structure. They kind of hesitate a little bit on the finishing, struggle a little bit on the finishing, but overall they're a very good squad. They don't depend on any individual player; they do everything as a team. Honestly, I respect them a lot."
Estancia junior Judy Gonzalez marked Torres much of the match before going out near the end with a bloody nose, with Stephanie Madrigal coming in on defense.
Estancia nearly struck first blood at the end, pushing hard in the last 20 minutes for the goal.
Calderon's long, bouncing ball in the 70th minute found the feet of freshman Emily Rodriguez near the top of the box, but she was unable to get a shot off.
Four minutes later, a well-placed corner kick from junior Haley Flores went into the box, but junior Jackie Hubbard couldn't quite get her head on the ball.
Flores and sophomore midfielder Alba Barrios, who aggravated a left ankle injury in the second half but stayed in the game, set up plenty of opportunities for Estancia.
"I feel like in the last 20 minutes, something actually snapped and everyone just gave it their best," Calderon said. "I feel like we can carry that over to the next game and start out like that, instead of ending the game like that. We just need to come out with the right mind-set."
The Eagles are running out of time. Two more ties in the last week of the regular season probably aren't going to get the job done.
Perry said a positive was that her side created more opportunities Thursday than it had created in recent games.
"I'm really proud of the effort that we put out," Perry said. "I'm proud of the fact that we worked so hard. I just wish they could be compensated with a win right now. But Saddleback's a great side and they work their butts off. It's the way the ball bounces sometimes."