LOS ANGELES — Don't bring up the last time the Estancia High boys' soccer team won the CIF Southern Section title to Robert Castellano. He begrudgingly will thank you for reminding him.
That special season 14 years ago can be a sensitive issue for him at times. He missed being a part of that section championship team because he graduated the year before the school won it all.
Castellano never played for a section title, but he is now one win away from coaching the Eagles in one.
As the coach, Castellano is in full control, always composed. Yet, he almost broke down after he led his alma mater to a 5-2 rout at Los Angeles Windward in the quarterfinals of the CIF Southern Section Division 5 playoffs on Thursday.
Castellano, in his fifth season in charge, was at a loss for words when he addressed his team afterward. The Eagles circled around their leader and hugged him, saying, "It's OK to cry."
Castellano stepped back and wiped a couple tears away. At 33, it felt good to cry in front of teenagers. Reaching this stage of the season, the semifinals, meant a lot to Castellano.
Every season, he believed his school possessed the type of talent to make a deep run in the postseason. Before he took over at Estancia, Castellano was an assistant coach for five seasons under Coach Gannon Burks. In their final season together, in 2008-09, the Eagles lost on the road in the quarterfinals.
Four minutes into the Eagles' first quarterfinal appearance in five seasons, they trailed, 1-0. Castellano and his team never blinked against Windward. They weren't going out in the quarterfinals. They made it too far, out of the wild-card round with a 2-0 win against Pomona Diamond Ranch at home, to driving 139 miles to Thermal Desert Mirage and scoring in the 84th minute to prevail, 1-0, in the first round, to upsetting third-seeded Apple Valley Granite Hills, 2-1, at home in the second round, to a 48-mile trip to Windward for the quarterfinals.
Chris Moya made sure to keep Estancia's season alive. The sophomore produced three goals and the Eagles advanced to the semifinals for the first time since the 1999-00 season, the one Castellano missed as a player.
"We want to leave our mark," said Castellano, who wants to guide Estancia to its third section crown in school history. "We want people in Orange County to know that Estancia soccer is one of the best soccer programs in the county."
The Eagles (16-5-5) are only one of two OC programs left in the Division 5 playoffs. The other is Santiago, which many expected to qualify for the semifinals, as the team is the top seed.
The Eagles weren't a clear choice to go this far, but here they are, the third-place team from the Orange Coast League is in the semifinals. They play host to Baldwin Park (19-4-1), the Valle Vista League champion, on Tuesday.
The Eagles are happy to go home to play on a real soccer field, not in the outfield of a baseball field. Castellano said the field at Windward was 20 yards narrower and 15 yards shorter than the one Estancia competes on at Jim Scott Stadium.
The home-field advantage helped Windward (15-7-1), the third-place team from the Alpha League, go ahead early. On a throw-in from the right touchline, Drew Pion found Jackson Benarroch near the far post, where he put the ball away with his head.
Every throw-in at Windward proved to be dangerous. Because of the narrow field, players on both sides were able to throw the ball inside the 18 with ease.
Castellano said he learned of Windward's small field on Wednesday morning, when a Garden Grove coach called Castellano. Garden Grove lost at Windward, 4-2, in the second round on Tuesday.
"He really wanted us to beat them. He gave me a good scouting report," said Castellano, who forgot the coach's name, but he remembered the game plan.
The Eagles executed that plan. They attacked Windward, with runs by forward Kevin Pizarro and precise passes on set pieces by midfielder Jorge Mendoza. Two of Mendoza's balls found the heads of Marco Pineda and Daniel Segura and resulted in goals.
Estancia's most success came whenever Moya, a midfielder, struck the ball. Abarham Cortez told Moya before the match that Moya would score.
In the first three playoff matches, Cortez accounted for three of the Eagles' five goals. Moya ended up recording three of the team's five goals against Windward.
Moya tied it up at 1-1 in the 17th minute when he blasted a shot inside the box. His next two goals, each coming outside of the 18 in the second half, proved to be big.
Moya broke a tie in the 56th minute, 4 minutes after Benarroch converted a penalty kick to even things up at 2-2. Moya's ball bounced over the goalkeeper.
Moya then beat the keeper by using one of the keeper's own defenders in the 58th minute. Estancia took a 4-2 lead when Moya rocketed the ball and it deflected off a defender and into the back of the net.
"He has such a good shot that before the game I told him, 'You need to score at least two goals,' and he scored three," said Castellano, knowing the production was more than enough to get Castellano and his team one step closer to claiming the coveted section title. "That's what I've been working for since I started coaching. I believe in this program and I believe in these players."