East Union likely would have been satisfied with a tie.
The Lancers instead celebrated a shocking 4-3 come-from-behind victory over Central Catholic in the Valley Oak League opener for both teams Tuesday at Dino Cunial Field.
They never led until the closing seconds when Jasmine Mejia beat a Central Catholic defender to a Hail Mary long ball from Mariana Huizar and blew a confident near-post shot past goalkeeper Alex Rodriguez. The game-ending whistle was blown immediately after the restart.
East Union (1-0-0, 5-3-0 overall) scored three unanswered goals — the last two by Mejia — in the final 20 minutes after trailing 3-1 early in the second half.
“I didn’t even think about it, just go for it all,” Mejia said of her dramatic game-winner. “It felt amazing. I thought we were going tie.”
It would not have been possible if not for the hustle and heads-up play of Huizar on the other side of the center line. The junior midfielder ran down the loose ball as it headed for the sideline in front of the Lancers bench and booted it upfield with her left foot.
Then it was off to the races, with Mejia scooting behind Julia Ramos on the deciding play.
“I was just thinking that I had to do something,” Huizar said. “Try to get it to the forwards instead of passing it back or to the middle of the field, because I knew we only had a few seconds.”
East Union had chances throughout and outshot Central Catholic 17-9, but it was the visiting Raiders (0-1-0, 8-4-1) who owned the early momentum.
Colleen Ballatore buried goals in the 16th and 25th minutes as CC went into halftime ahead, 2-1. Her second strike was a beauty — a 40-yard free kick that settled into the upper-right corner that freshman goalie Malia Allen had no chance of stopping.
Huizar earlier assisted East Union’s first goal, lobbing it into the penalty box on the first touch to give Taysha McGuire an easy 1-on-1.
“I told the girls it’s never over, even at 3-1,” East Union coach Carlos Gaspar said. “I said at halftime, ‘If you play the way I know you can play we’re going to do it.’”
East Union played with purpose and confidence after its deficit doubled on Skyler Hoy’s impressive left-footed blast from long range just four minutes into the second half.
After several missed opportunities, the Lancers’ big comeback started in the 60th minute with Taylor Campbell’s right-foot volley off Airyana Verdugo’s corner-kick cross to the near post. Mejia continued East Union’s roll three minutes later with the equalizer, crushing it from 25 yards out.
“Everyone was just putting in more work, and when we can work as a team we can do anything,” Mejia said.
Although she did not factor into the scoring, freshman Hailey Sims was instrumental in building that second-half momentum with crafty play and dangerous crosses from the left wing.
“She’s not the quickest on the team but she’s a playmaker,” Gaspar said. “I started her out at center mid, but in our last game I thought I should try her out on the wing and she’s making plays there. We have such a young team and we’re still trying to figure some things out, but this win is going to motivate them even more.”