Westbrook junior Maddison LeBeau brings the ball through the South Portland defense.
Westbrook’s field hockey team celebrates at the final horn of its 1-0 win at South Portland Monday afternoon.
SOUTH PORTLAND—South Portland’s field hockey team has come a long way in the past couple weeks, but Monday afternoon at Wainwright Farms, the Red Riots weren’t quite able to take the next step and earn a signature victory.
Hosting Westbrook, South Portland was on its heels throughout the first half, but thanks to strong play from freshman goalie Maddie Drolet, kept the game scoreless.
The Red Riots then had some good scoring chances in the second half, but couldn’t convert and with 8:43 to play, Blue Blazes junior Elizabeth Barlow rattled the cage.
Westbrook slammed the door from there and prevailed, 1-0, improving to 4-1-1 while dropping South Portland to 2-4 in the process.
“We knew Westbrook would be a tough team,” said Red Riots coach Leslie Dyer. “They’re always a top team. They have fantastic athletes who can finish. I think my girls played really well and we were right there with them. The game could have gone either way, but unfortunately, they got the opportunity and they finished.”
South Portland got off to a tough start with a 6-0 home loss to Gorham, followed by a 3-0 setback at Marshwood and a 4-1 home loss to Cheverus. The Red Riots then righted their ship on the road, rolling at Deering (5-0) and Bonny Eagle (6-1).
Westbrook, a perennial contender, lost its opener to visiting Cheverus (3-0), then won at Deering (4-0) and Bonny Eagle (5-1) and held off visiting Biddeford (1-0) before settling for a scoreless tie at Windham last Thursday.
A year ago, Westbrook beat the visiting Red Riots, 4-2.
Monday, South Portland was seeking its first win over the Blue Blazes since Oct. 15, 2002 (1-0 at home), but instead, Westbrook made it 13 straight victories in the series.
The Blue Blazes set the tone in the first minute, pressuring and earning a penalty corner. Sophomore Avery Tucker had a great look, but Drolet made the save.
In the 10th minute, a cross from senior Danielle Breunig came to Tucker right in front of an open cage, but Tucker couldn’t get her stick on the ball.
Drolet then denied Tucker on a corner and junior Maddison LeBeau had a couple of near misses.
The Red Riots had just one scoring chance in the first half, as senior Lydia Henderson fed junior Maeve Kelly, but Kelly’s shot was denied by Westbrook sophomore goalie Kimberly Goddard.
In the first half, the Blue Blazes had a 4-1 edge in shots and a 7-0 advantage on corners, but thanks in large part to four key Drolet saves, the game remained 0-0.
Westbrook started the second half fast as well, but couldn’t finish, as Breunig tipped a LeBeau blast just wide.
South Portland then went on the offensive, as senior Amelia Papi had a shot saved by Goddard, freshman Lydia Grant had a shot off a corner saved by Goddard and Grant shot again, but missed just wide.
At the other end, LeBeau had a shot saved by Drolet, then barely missed.
With 16:45 to play, Henderson just missed on the Red Riots’ last good opportunity.
With 8:43 left, the Blue Blazes finally broke through.
The goal was set up by freshman Mary Keef, who backhanded a shot across the crease and Barlow was there to bury it for a 1-0 lead.
“We’ve struggled getting the ball in the goal,” said longtime Westbrook coach Beth Murphy. “We’ve had a lot of shots, we’ve just had a tough time putting it in. We work on scoring in practice. We lost some big scorers from last year. Our midfield the strongest part of the team. They need to get shots and take them.”
Dyer called timeout with 7:29 remaining, but South Portland wasn’t able to muster a shot the rest of the way and Westbrook put the finishing touches on its 1-0 win.
“We had some tough losses at the beginning of the season, but the girls decided they wanted more,” Dyer said. “This is a game we’ve been working for. I think we were evenly matched.”
The Blue Blazes had a 7-3 shots advantage and finished with 12 corners to the Red Riots’ two. Goddard made three saves.
Westbrook has a new look this fall, as Murphy is joined as co-coach by former St. Joseph’s College standouts Theresa Hendrix and Rachelle Messuri.
Murphy was planning to retire, but was convinced to return and is glad she did so.
“It’s a young group learning a new coaching style, but they’re working hard and we’ll take every win we can get,” Murphy said. “I’m proud of them.
“I couldn’t stay away. I have a lot of juniors in my home room and they didn’t want me to leave. Theresa and Rachelle are very good. They’re added a lot to the program. The kids are really buying in.”
South Portland hung tough and got six saves from Drolet, but still fell short.
“(Maddie’s) a soccer player, first time playing field hockey and she’s played well,” Dyer said.
It’s not too early to think about playoff positioning and both teams have work to do to wind up in the postseason.
Westbrook (eighth in Class A South at press time) returns to action Wednesday at home versus defending regional champion Thornton Academy, then visits Sanford. The Blue Blazes also have home tests against Scarborough and undefeated Massabesic and a trip to Marshwood remaining.
“We have a big game coming up (against Thornton Academy),” Murphy said. “We get to play them at home and not on turf. That’s a big advantage.”
South Portland (currently ranked 12th, but only 11 teams make the playoffs) goes to Windham Wednesday, is home against Biddeford Friday and has key games at Thornton Academy and Sanford next week. The Red Riots finish up with home tilts versus Scarborough, Portland and Massabesic and a game at Noble.
“We have a big week, but this is a week we’ve been waiting for,” Dyer said. “Windham and Biddeford are both seeded ahead of us. Playoffs are a goal of ours. The girls are fighting for it. We just need to score some more goals.”