A combination of skill, finesse and remarkable chemistry for a team with so many new players produced 7 victories in as many games for a fast start to Evanston’s 2019 soccer season.

The Wildkit girls found another way to win Saturday at Lazier Field in the first round of the North Shore Invitational tournament.

In a victory that assistant coach Nick Gauna aptly described as “gritty” in the post-game huddle, the Wildkits scored twice in the last 7 minutes to preserve their perfect record by a 3-1 margin over Hinsdale Central.

Bouncing back after yielding a game-tying goal midway through the second half, the Wildkits improved to 8-0-0 behind goals by Callista O’Connor and Carly Menocal in their pool play opener in the tournament.

Evanston resumes tourney play Monday with a home game against Naperville North and will travel to Mundelein Carmel Wednesday to complete pool play. The semifinals and finals of the tourney are set for Thursday and Saturday, respectively, at New Trier High School.

The Kits know they’ll have to play better if they want to make a return trip to the title game this year. They fell 1-0 to Glenbrook South in last year’s championship game.

“I think this was kind of a wakeup call and now we have to step back up again,” said ETHS head coach Stacy Salgado. “We played very strong for the first 20 minutes, then we had a big lapse in discipline and we didn’t play our game. We recovered, but it was almost too little, too late.

“Every game is a different challenge, and you have to find a way to win. We got a little too comfortable (with a 1-0 lead) but they found a way to get it done. This tournament is a big test for us and there are no easy games. We know we’re not going to have a perfect record this season. How will we bounce back as a team when things don’t go our way? I liked the grit we showed when they tied it up, and how we battled to the end.”

Hinsdale Central (1-3-1 overall) pulled even at 1-1 with 9 minutes, 32 seconds left in regulation when Caroline Lyman poked a rebound effort past ETHS goalkeeper Caitlin Fitzpatrick (6 saves). That’s when the hosts really rose to the occasion.

Less than 3 minutes later, the Kits converted a restart that began with Hadley Bushala’s free kick from the 30-yard line and climaxed when O’Connor headed a rebound shot into the back of the net for her 5th goal of the season.

Another Bushala free kick — from 5 yards farther out — produced another rebound goal, with freshman Menocal scoring the clincher in the 77th minute.

“We had a little lack of intensity for awhile, but Hadley hit that amazing ball (on O’Connor’s scoring effort) and that really gave us a spark. We picked up our momentum then,” said senior Keara Kerr, who scored Evanston’s first goal in the first half.

“The coaches are always reminding us to play calm, and play with possession, and we did what we needed to do to get back in it by playing our game again. This game was good for us because it showed us we need to stay disciplined for 80 minutes, game after game, and every individual has to come out and play their best.”

Kerr, one of only 3 senior starters Saturday for the Kits, broke a scoreless deadlock with a chip shot from an extreme angle on the right side of the field that sailed into the upper left corner of the net in the 35th minute.

“My thought process is that when I can see that back post, wherever I am, I try to see if I can get it there,” said the Miami (Ohio) University recruit. “The ball was in the perfect spot for me, so I just hit it.”

The Wildkits also got a boost last week when senior Annika DeStefano was cleared to return to action following surgery for a torn ACL in her knee. The ETHS coaching staff has been carefully monitoring her minutes, but she adds another option with an upcoming schedule that include as many as 5 games in 7 days if the Kits keep winning.

“She played about 10 minutes against Niles West and about 20 against Deerfield, and right now we’re just trying to build her back up (physically),” Salgado explained. “We have a lot of interchangeable parts right now and having that good depth is really important for us.”