Two months ago, Estancia High was one of the host sites of the North Orange County Classic. One of the schools in the boys' soccer tournament was Pomona Diamond Ranch. The two programs didn't play each other at Jim Scott Stadium because they played in different divisions.
They finally squared off on Tuesday, at the start of another tournament. The winner kept playing and the loser went home for good in this tournament.
The Eagles played host and they stayed alive by beating Diamond Ranch, 2-0, in the wild-card round of the CIF Southern Section Division 5 playoffs. They scored early and late to claim their second wild-card win in as many seasons.
The Eagles (13-5-5) travel to Thermal Desert Mirage (12-6-3) on Thursday for a first-round match. Getting to Desert Mirage will take Estancia a little more than 2 hours.
The 139-mile trip is one Coach Robert Castellano expected his Eagles to make, even after their disappointing finish in Orange Coast League play last week. They played Godinez, the top team in league, and lost, 4-0, suffering their most lopsided setback of the season, and then they faced Calvary Chapel, the worst team in league, and tied, 2-2.
"I wasn't worried," Castellano said about how his Eagles would respond in their postseason opener. "I knew we couldn't play worse than in the last two games."
The Eagles bounced back, helping their cause was having midfielder Marco Pineda back after he missed the previous three matches with a bruised knee. Castellano calls the senior the heart and soul of the team.
In the first minute, it was midfielder Abarham Cortez who lifted Estancia's spirit.
A bad clearance by the Panthers (12-9-4) in the box cost them. The ball popped up, and Cortez backpedaled before doing a small bicycle kick, striking the ball over goalkeeper Antonio Lozano's gloves for the goal.
Lozano found himself in another predicament 13 minutes later.
Kevin Pizarro, Estancia's leading goal scorer, was in a one-on-one situation with the keeper. Pizarro had a chance to produce his 12th goal of the season, but near the top of the box, he hesitated and looked for the assistant referee to raise his flag for an offside infraction.
The flag never went up. Instead of attacking Lozano, Pizarro took a shot and it went wide left.
The next time the Eagles were in a similar situation, they played on and it resulted in a goal. With Diamond Ranch playing a man down because Jonathon Martin earned a red card after viciously tackling Pizarro, a striker, from behind in the 68th minute, Estancia made the most of a scoring chance.
Jorge Mendoza found Chris Moya on the right side. The keeper tried to protect the near post, and Moya crossed it to Steve Sagastume, who put it away in the 71st minute, sealing the Eagles' victory.
"Once the red card came, it really took a lot of air out of us," said Diamond Ranch Coach Jerry Martinez, whose team made the playoffs as an at-large entry after it placed fifth in the Hacienda League. "They're a good team. I'm surprised they're in the wild-card game."
A second straight third-place finish in the Orange Coast League put Estancia in the wild-card round again. The Eagles have begun the postseason much like last season, when they posted a shutout at home against Los Angeles Brentwood, before losing on the road in the first round at Hacienda Heights Los Altos, 2-0.
The Eagles last got past the first round during the 2011-12 season. Castellano said reaching the second round is the next step in a much bigger picture. Before the playoffs began, Castellano believed Estancia could go all the way because of the team's defense.
Christian Monroy and Carlos Herrera lead Estancia's back line. Toward the end of the first half, Herrera picked up a yellow card after knocking down Martin just outside of the box. Castellano had a little talk with Herrera when he exited.
Herrera returned in the second half and the Eagles held their 11th opponent scoreless. Keeper Enrique Valle just needed to make three saves.
Castellano took Herrera out with a couple of minutes to go. Herrera had to get ready for work as a sandwich artist. The senior might want to make one of those 6-foot giant subs for his team's upcoming road trip to Desert Mirage, the De Anza League champion.
"That's a good idea," Castellano said. "Going to be a long drive."