Portland can't slow defending regional champ Westbrook

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Portland junior goalie Jada McIlwain makes one of her 37 saves during the Bulldogs’ 7-0 home loss to defending Class A South champion Westbrook Friday afternoon.

Joe Carpine / 365digitalphotography.com photos.

More photos below.

PORTLAND—Jada McIlwain did everything she could, short of standing on her head, to hold off the defending Class A South champion Westbrook Blue Blazes, but Portland could only play defense so long in an SMAA field hockey contest Friday afternoon at Fitzpatrick Stadium before the Blue Blazes got their prolific offense in gear.

After McIlwain, a junior, made a series of athletic saves to keep the game scoreless and the Bulldogs just missed on their lone scoring chance of the game midway through the first half, Westbrook got the only goal it would need with 11:14 to go in the first half, as freshman Lillian Ranco scored.

By halftime, the lead was 4-0, as goals from juniors Arianna St. Clair, Morgan LeBeau and Kaitlyn Talbot followed in quick succession.

The Blue Blazes got two more tallies early in the second half, from senior Alexis Witham and junior Mary Keef, and with 4:13 remaining, senior standout Avery Tucker rattled the cage on a penalty corner and that closed the door on Westbrook’s 7-0 victory.

McIlwain made a whopping 37 saves, but it wasn’t enough as the Blue Blazes improved to 2-0-1 on the young season, handing Portland its second loss in as many games.

“I’ve never seen anything like (McIlwain’s play),” said Westbrook coach Theresa Hendrix.. “That got frustrating for our girls, but the girls came back and kept firing and the shots started to go in.” 

Tall task

Portland began its season with a 6-0 loss at Thornton Academy, then had the daunting task of hosting the defending regional champions from Westbrook, who began with a 1-1 tie at Falmouth, then downed visiting Sanford, 3-0.

Last year, the Blue Blazes beat the visiting Bulldogs, 8-0.

Friday, on a very comfortable 69-degree afternoon, Portland sought its first win over Westbrook since a 2-1 road victory Sept. 24, 2014, but instead, the Blue Blazes made it four in a row in the series.

Westbrook came out firing, but McIlwain denied bids from Tucker and Witham.

After saving shots from Tucker, Witham and Tucker again on penalty corners, McIlwain denied junior Katelyn Champagne in transition, swatted away a bid from Tucker with her glove and denied Champagne on the doorstep.

With 19:21 to play in the first half, McIlwain got some help, as a shot from St. Clair hit the post.

McIlwain then stopped Tucker cold again.

With 16:08 to go before halftime, the Bulldogs transitioned to offense and nearly stunned the Blue Blazes, as junior Noelle Walker passed the ball to senior Bridget Maloney in front, but Westbrook senior goalie Kim Goddard made her only save, giving up her body in the process, to keep the game scoreless.

After McIlwain saved shots by Witham and Tucker, the Blue Blazes finally broke through.

With 11:14 on the clock, off a penalty corner, Tucker fired a shot which McIlwain got a piece of, but Ranco was there to steer home the rebound for a 1-0 lead.

The second goal with 7:46 remaining in the half, as Ranco set up St. Clair for a goal on a corner.

With 5:59 left, Keef set up LeBeau and the score was 3-0.

Westbrook got one more first half goal with 1:33 on the clock, as off another corner, Champagne fed Talbot for a 4-0 advantage.

“The girls knew what they were doing was working, even if the ball wasn’t going in,” Hendrix said.

In the first 30 minutes, the Blue Blazes had a 27-1 shots advantage and took 12 corners to none for the Bulldogs.

McIlwain’s 23 saves kept Portland within hailing distance.

Westbrook quickly ended all doubt early in the second half, as off a turnover, Witham raced in and finished with 27:45 remaining and with 24:49 to go, Champagne set up Keef for a goal off a corner to make the score 6-0.

McIlwain held the Blue Blazes at bay for the next 20 minutes, but with 4:13 left, off another corner, LeBeau passed the ball in to Tucker, who fired a blast into the cage to account for the 7-0 final score.

“Our goal today was to come out and play the whole 60 minutes,” Hendrix said. “We struggled with that against Falmouth, then we played most of the game against Sanford.”

The final shots tally was staggering, 44-1.

McIlwain stopped 37 of those shots.

“(Jada) was phenomenal,” said Portland coach Beth Arsenault. “She had an amazing game. When she plays like that, we have a shot. We have to figure out how to score and get some momentum that way.

“Fatigue set in. We’re not a very deep team. You can’t have that many corners. It got tiring. There’s nothing but fight in these girls, so we’ll have some shots down the road. If we can get a good bounce early on and get momentum on our side, we have the goalie we need to win. Westbrook is very deep and they don’t relent. That’s what good teams do.”

Westbrook took 20 corners and scored on five of them. Goddard made the one big save. Seven different girls scored.

“It’s not one or two girls with this team,” Hendrix said. “It’s a whole team effort. We have five or six scorers who can produce for us. That’s nice.”

Looking for a win

Westbrook returns home Thursday to face Marshwood, then visits perennial powerhouse Scarborough Saturday, Sept. 15.

“They’re all tough, especially this year,” said Hendrix. “It was a nice feeling today. Hopefully we can bring that into next week. We need to continue to move up and down the field as a team. We’ve worked on getting everyone moving together.”

Portland continues to seek its first victory since a 2-0 home triumph over Deering Sept. 13, 2016. The Bulldogs are at Marshwood Tuesday and host Scarborough Thursday.

“We want to get a positive result,” Arsenault said. “The girls are working hard. I’d love for them to get a win and feel that feeling.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

Westbrook senior goalie Kim Goddard denies Portland senior Bridget Maloney in the Bulldogs’ lone scoring chance.

Portland senior Jaidyn Appel and Westbrook junior Arianna St. Clair battle for possession.

Portland junior Noelle Walker tries to get past Westbrook senior Emma Ranco.

Portland sophomore Emma Harrigan chases after the ball.

Westbrook senior Alexis Witham takes a shot.

Portland junior goalie Jada McIlwain denies Westbrook junior Mary Keef.

Sports Editor of The Forecaster since 2001. Find detailed game stories at theforecaster.net. I tweet prodigiously at @foresports.