The Westbrook girls lacrosse team jumped to a big lead then withstood a furious second-half rally to fend off South Portland’s upset bid on a chilly Monday evening at George E. Martin Memorial Field in South Portland.

With the 6-5 victory, the Blue Blazes improved to 4-1 in the SMAA. The Red Riots dropped to 1-3.

Westbrook led 5-1 at halftime after scoring three times in the final 3:30 of the first half. The Blue Blazes extended the lead to five less than four minutes into the second half, but South Portland scored the final four goals of the game – two in the final 2:47 – to make things interesting.

“We tend to be a team that once we get behind, we dig really deep,” said South Portland coach Bethany McCauley. “It just so happens that the second half is usually the best played part of the game for us. We’re working on ways to not be the comeback team. We want to come out and stay with the other team the whole time. We’re trying to figure out how that’s going to happen.”

Westbrook, which defeated Portland 5-4 in a hard-fought game last Friday, got off to a fast start, but was in danger of squandering its lead until Emily Wight intercepted South Portland’s final possession in the game’s waning seconds.

“We’re coming off of a big win on Friday that was played with a lot of emotion against Portland,” said Westbrook coach Debbie Henry. “It’s hard to mentally get yourself up. That’s what I said to them at halftime: If you don’t get up for it, they’re going to make it a game. And they made it a game.”

Alexis Lodge put Westbrook up 6-1 with 21:18 left to play. Three minutes later, the Red Riots rally began. Erika Waterhouse scored her second goal of the game, assisted by Annie King. With 15:44 to go, Waterhouse completed the hat trick to make it 6-3.

Neither team scored for nearly 13 minutes. Then, with 2:47 remaining, Sarah Violette scored to make it 6-4. Forty six seconds later, King pulled South Portland within one.

Westbrook was able to stall for much of the final minute before South Portland regained possession with just under 20 seconds left and the field to go. The Red Riots attempted a long toss downfield, but Wight was there to pick it off, securing the win for the Blue Blazes.

“I don’t think we played with the intensity (in the second half) that we usually do,” Henry said. “There wasn’t a good flow to the game. With my team, when we’re moving and everything is connected, we’re really good. We couldn’t win the groundball.”

Meliah Leighton put Westbrook ahead 1-0 just 1:21 into the game. Waterhouse quickly answered 1:16 later with her first goal to tie it up. With 9:24 remaining in the first half, Megan Cutter put the Blue Blazes up 2-1. Jade Hicks’ goal with 3:30 left in the half made it 3-1 and kicked off the Westbrook flurry. Leighton converted a nifty feed from Cutter with 45.8 seconds left before the break, and Wight scored once more before the horn, making it 5-1 with 11.7 seconds to go.

The Red Riots have been a slow-starting team all season, McCauley said, though she’s seeing improvement.

“If we can just get some goals early on in the game instead of playing catch-up most of the game, I think it will be a totally different season for us,” McCauley said. “It seems like every game we start to play harder a little bit earlier in the game. It’s just about getting started. We’ve just got to come out stronger right off the bat.”

Westbrook’s strong start to the year has shown what the Blue Blazes are capable of, though maintaining a high level of play for all 50 minutes will be crucial for the team to go deep in the playoffs.

“Just playing with consistency (will be the key),” Henry said. “There are moments when you look out there and we are absolutely brilliant. Everything is just looking the way you would draw it up. And at times it’s not. We’re just inconsistent with that.

“It’s a really good bunch. I’ve got some fabulous athletes. It’s just the consistency thing is something we need to work on.”

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