GARDEN GROVE — Estancia High Co-Coach Xavier Castellano said it is the chip on their shoulders that is propelling his girls' basketball players to the program's best start in recent memory.
But it's also the scabs on their knees and the sweat on their collective brow that is likely even more responsible for a 12-2 record that includes two tournament titles.
The Eagles collected their latest championship trophy by defeating South Hills, 64-54, in the final of the Santiago Tournament on Saturday night at Santiago High. It was their sixth win in a row and, according to Castellano, who shares duties with Judd Fryslie, it was the Eagles' best performance of the season.
"It was a great win for us, just a great all-around team effort," said Castellano, whose players' grit, determination and competitiveness would make UFC Queen Ronda Rousey proud.
"All the girls have a little chip on their shoulder," Castellano said. "They just want to show people they are a good team and they are doing the right thing."
The right thing was clearly stepping up on defense after a 16-1 South Hills run turned an 8-2 Estancia lead into an 18-9 deficit. The Huskies, who saw their six-game winning streak halted, made nine of their first 13 field-goal tries and forced six first-quarter turnovers to take control early.
But after making just one of their final four shots from the field to allow the Eagles to creep back within 22-19 at the end of the first quarter, the Huskies missed their first 11 shots in the second quarter and were one for 17 in the period until a driving layin with 12 seconds left in the half allowed them to forge a 27-27 deadlock at intermission.
Estancia, which received 27 points from tournament Most Valuable Player Celia Duran, opened the third period on an 11-4 run and senior Michelle Simmons' layin with 43 seconds left in the quarter put the Eagles up, 45-41, heading into the final eight minutes.
A 9-1 run to start the final period put the Eagles in control for good and they made eight of 11 foul shots in the final three minutes to close the deal.
Duran, a senior who made her final nine foul shots and had a game, was seven for 13 from the field including four for five from three-point range. She also impressed on defense, Castellano said.
Estancia's Maya Van Den Heever, who earned all-tournament recognition, chipped in 14 points, five assists, four rebounds and three steals and showed she was not afraid to hit the floor to become the bottom of any pile.
"Maya gets overlooked a lot, because she is so unselfish," Castellano said. "But she controlled the game for us and I really think she is one of the best sophomores in Orange County."
Simmons had seven of her 10 points in the final quarter and pulled down a team-best seven rebounds, despite having to exit the game briefly when she had difficulty breathing due to illness.
Junior guard Slade Garnett added her typically strong defense, while contributing eight points and a pair of three-pointers, and junior Eliza Jason has six boards and two points to round out the starting five for the winners.
"I think it's the best game we've played all year, just because we didn't rely on our press," Castellano said. "And it wasn't our three-point shooting as much as halfcourt basketball, ground and pound, and we played defense and stopped their penetration."
Estancia finished 20 for 46 from the field (43.4%), while holding the Huskies to 34.9% (22 for 63).
The Eagles lost the turnover battle, 21-14, but clearly are doing enough to keep their winning edge.