El Toro goalkeeper DzRae Jara knocks the ball away as her teammate Kyleigh Burton tries to keep JSerra's Isabella Daquila at bay during their 3-3 tie in the OC Winter Showcase at Irvine's Great Park Saturday.

El Toro keeps faith, rallies to tie JSerra


IRVINE – It was unfamiliar territory.

El Toro’s girls soccer team has one of the strongest back lines in the county, but JSerra’s Isabella D’Aquila had managed to slip behind the Chargers defense and score twice in the early going Saturday.

Down by a pair of goals on two separate occasions, El Toro had no choice but to keep faith in its usually reliable back end as it chased the equalizer.

The Chargers scored three times in the second half to secure a 3-3 draw against JSerra in a pool play game of the O.C. Winter Showcase at the Great Park in Irvine.

Kailey Smith tied the game on a 30-yard free kick in the 62nd minute. The game was played with 35-minute halves, making Smith’s goal all that more crucial.

The sophomore midfielder said the team could not have made the comeback without trusting center backs Kaiya McCullough and Kyleigh Burton.

“We know they are very strong defenders,” Smith said. “We have confidence that they will block every ball that goes back there. Since we know they are back there, we know we can move forward.”

McCullough’s value to the Chargers (1-0-1) was evidenced in the final minutes. The dangerous D’Aquila entered the box with space, and the UCLA commit broke up the JSerra (1-0-1) scoring opportunity with a clean tackle.

Mikenna McManus started El Toro’s comeback with a long-distance strike of her own. The Chargers’ momentum was interrupted when D’Aquila delivered the ball to Samantha Hobert in close for the Lions’ third goal.

El Toro rallied by putting their coach’s instructions to follow their shots to work. McManus’ shot fell at the feet of Lions goalkeeper Christiana Prekopa, and Smith tapped the rebound over to Gwen Maly, who cut the deficit to 3-2.

“As a coach, all you can ask is that they try to implement what we’re telling them,” Chargers coach Steve Van Dam said. “We have to follow our shots and get that second opportunity.”

Despite letting a 3-1 lead slip away in the last 20 minutes, D’Aquila is encouraged by her team’s offensive production. The Lions have scored nine goals in their first two games.

“(I like) how many opportunities we had, being able to finish them off, and working as a team,” she said. “We need to fight more in the second half.”

Also in the O.C. Winter Showcase:

No. 8 Canyon 1, La Habra 0: Taylor Rasmussen scored the goal and Gillian Kliss made four saves as the Comanches (2-2-0) shutout the Highlanders (0-2-1).

Beckman 2, El Modena 0: Juliana Hernandez struck in the first half, and Jessica Ruggieri added the insurance marker as the Patriots (1-0-2) earned their first win.

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