COSTA MESA — The goal is looking awfully big right now for Estancia High boys' soccer player Cristian Gomez.
The Eagles as a team also have big goals for the CIF Southern Section Division 5 playoffs.
Gomez continued his torrid scoring pace Wednesday night at Jim Scott Stadium. The senior striker recorded his second hat trick of the season as Estancia blanked visiting Brentwood, 3-0, in a Division 5 wild-card match.
Estancia dominated on the pitch. The dangerous Eagles advanced to the first round, where they will play at Hacienda League champion Los Altos on Friday.
"I'm more than confident that we can play with anybody in our division," Estancia Coach Robert Castellano said. "Especially if we play like this, I don't see anybody stopping us. CIF can put any team they want in front of us; we're more than ready."
Gomez, who was not on the team earlier in the season due to what Castellano called discipline issues, has been red-hot since returning. Gomez, who was last year's Orange Coast League Offensive Player of the Year, has 13 goals in just nine games.
By comparison, Gomez had 10 goals all last year.
"It's pretty unbelievable," Castellano said. "He's playing with a chip on his shoulder. He's playing to prove something to himself ... Christian's a great player and his attitude has improved. The kids see that. They feed off him, and the kids get a little more confident when they see Chris on the pitch. I'm happy he's back; I'm happy he changed it around."
Castellano credited his brother Xavier, the Estancia girls' basketball co-coach, for helping aide Gomez's return to the Eagles.
"My brother talked to him," Robert Castellano said. "He helped Cris get back on the team, and Cris recognizes that. After he scored a goal, he kind of gave a thumbs up to 'Xavy.' If it wasn't for him, [Gomez] wouldn't be on the team right now."
Wednesday's match was chippy at first, with both sides arguing with the referee. Eventually, Robert Castellano told his players multiple times to stop arguing.
Gomez's play helped settle down the Eagles (10-5-7). He scored first in the 31st minute, taking the pass from junior Jorge Mendoza in the box and chipping the ball over Brentwood goalkeeper Jordan Bostick.
Brentwood (8-9-3), the fourth-place team from the Alpha League, nearly tied the score just before halftime, but a header by senior Daniel Rapaport clanged off the crossbar.
Estancia took the 1-0 halftime lead, then doubled it in the 46th minute. Gomez scored unassisted this time, after a run down the left side and beating the charging goalie.
He added his third goal in the 76th minute, a fortunate strike from about 35 yards out that deflected off the goalie and appeared to go through his legs.
As Xavier Castellano yelled out "You're welcome!" to his brother, Robert was able to take Gomez out with the match secured.
"A goal's a goal," said Gomez, who is clearly happy to be back contributing for his team. "It's my senior year. I'm going to give it all I can, and hope we can make it very far.
"I missed it. I came out here for a couple of games, and I saw them playing without me. I was just like bummed out, because I really wanted to play. We worked on things, and I came back on."
Junior goalie Carlos Herrera made five saves for Estancia, which played behind without team captain Cristian Montillo (back) on defense. Seniors Alex Esquivel, Enrique Salazar and Anthony Pastrana, junior Marco Pineda and sophomore Christian Monroy all helped fortify the Eagles' defense.
"We're playing for him so he can get fit in time," Robert Castellano said of Montillo, a four-year starter. "We're going to go as far as we can, so we can get him back as soon as possible. He can barely walk right now. He's got some back spasms."
Castellano was able to put in five junior varsity call-ups near the end. He said Jose Hernandez, Marcos Solis, Seaver Sanchez, Eddie Roldan and Miguel Espinoza were all nervous, but he wanted to show that he had confidence in them.
The Eagles' confidence as a team may be higher than it has been at any other time this season.
"We have a decent team," Gomez said. "I'm not going to lie, I have a great feeling that we're going to go far."
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