El Toro's Kim Reidel, right, shoots past San Clemente's Tara Richardson during a South Coast League match at El Toro on Thursday.

El Toro pulls out win in league showdown with San Clemente


El Toro’s girls water polo team endured a lopsided first period in a game three weeks ago, but like many setbacks, there was a lesson hidden in the loss.

The defending CIF-SS champion Chargers showed Thursday that they didn’t miss it.

Ninth-ranked El Toro locked down on high-scoring center Amber McCutcheon and No. 8 San Clemente en route to a critical, 7-6, victory in a South Coast League opener at El Toro.

In a match that pitted the teams from last season’s Division 2 final, El Toro (5-3, 1-0) was proud of how it defended against its biggest league rival.

The Chargers lost Dec. 17 at fellow Division 2 contender Murrieta Valley, 13-8, after being outscored, 7-1 in the first quarter.

“That game,” El Toro defender Maddy Damato said, “definitely fueled us to win this one.

“We really got to focus on that hard press (on defense). It just killed us in the Murrieta game.”

El Toro used its press, well-timed strategic drops and a heavy dose of Damato and goalie Tori Rainone to hold McCutcheon to one goal.

Damato guarded McCutcheon for four periods without picking up an exclusion and joined Coach Justin Johnson in making defensive calls.

Rainone added six saves and six steals in a duel with San Clemente’s tandem of Hylah Prussak (six saves) and Victoria Reardon (seven saves).

Rainone also alertly committed a penalty shot foul on a quickly formed 2-on-1 during a rebound sequence early in the third period. The move paid off as San Clemente (7-4, 0-1) missed the penalty shot.

The Chargers' defense made a counterattack strike by Dayna Tatum with 1:22 left in the third period stand as the winning goal. After San Clemente erased a 6-3 deficit, Tatum snapped a 6-6 tie by capitalizing on an errant pass.

El Toro’s defense delivered a late stand as Ashley Rivers helped break up an entry for McCutcheon at center with about 20 seconds left. The Chargers stole the ball, called timeout and ran out the clock.

“We did a lot better job communicating and helping,” Rainone said of El Toro's defense.

El Toro produced center strikes by Damato, Tatum and Haley Hagerty and two counterattack goals by Maddy Parenteau. Jessica Rodriguez added three assists and three steals for El Toro.

The South Coast League plays a double-round and could see its champion earn a playoff seed on the opposite side of the bracket from Murrieta Valley.

"Huge," Johnson said of the victory. "Murrieta has separated itself as the team to beat, so far."

In nonleague:

No. 1 Laguna Beach 11, No. 2 Foothill 5: Freshman Sophie Leggett scored a season-high five goals for the visiting Breakers (10-0), who scored five goals in the second period and earned their 62nd consecutive victory.

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