WESTBROOK—The Lady Blazes struggled – at least, per the scoreboard they struggled – when Portland came to town on Saturday morning, Sept. 29. The Lady Bulldogs took the game 10-0 in the end, but Westbrook has talent on their roster, and they weren’t without their chances.

“That’s the barrier we have right now,” Westbrook head coach Mike Russell said, asked about his girls’ inability to convert. “We’re so fixated in getting down a couple goals and not being able to come out of that lump, it just topples over after that. Once we get down, we have a hard time getting back on track.”

“We have some really talented girls,” Russell continued. “We’ve just got to find a way to get over that hump.”

Russell nodded to some frustrating external factors many a team struggles to deal with: “Certainly we’ve yet to have a game where we’ve had a full squad,” he said. “We always have that leaning over us…It would be nice to have everybody healthy, everybody on the same page and actually practicing together and working together. Until that happens, I don’t know what the true potential of this team is yet.”

“That being said, we have some really talented kids on this team,” Russell went on. “They’re fighting, working hard. The results are not [indicative of] what our games are, or how they’re played.”

Portland opened the game with two goals in the first 10 minutes; they went to 3-0 and then 4-0 on back-to-back penalty kicks at 23:00 and 21:17, Toni Stevenson took both PKs for the Bulldogs.

Westbrook turned in numerous quality shots as the minutes elapsed – the Blazes got to Portland’s corners often enough, and successfully dumped balls center-ward – but they couldn’t quite finish. Carolyn DiBiase fired an attempt from the right corner at 15:50, only to see it deflected away; Allison Petry tried again about four minutes later, but missed just wide; and with 7:33 to play before the break, Allyson LaPierre shoveled a feed to Petry, who got a knee on the redirect, but sent it just high of the Bulldogs’ crossbar.

That’s the sort of luck that plagued Westbrook all morning. Goalkeeper Michaela Russell pulled a yellow card with 3:12 remaining in the first half, resulting in yet another Portland penalty kick. Blazes backup netminder Nikki Morse stepped in to face the PK, while Bulldog Annika Morse took it – and scored.

Then, midway through the latter half, Westbrooker Mikayla VanZandt pulled a red card. The Blazes were down 7-0 by then, so the card itself made little difference to the outcome. Still, it seemed out-of-place in the game.

It’s unusual for a full game to feature a single penalty kick, let alone three. Likewise, most matchups don’t produce yellow and (especially) red cards. For all of those things to go against Westbrook in the course of their bout with the Bulldogs was bizarre, particularly because the back-and-forth between the teams didn’t look all that chippy.

“That kind of killed us,” Coach Russell said of the litany of PKs and cards that piled up against his girls. “That’s the first red card I’ve had as a coach here. And to have three penalty kicks is more than I’ve had in three years. That’s just another obstacle these guys have to overcome…We need to find a way to overcome those negativities and just play.”

“This was about as clean a game as I’ve seen,” Russell said. “Under most circumstances, those calls probably won’t be calls. They certainly wouldn’t be called in a boys game. There’s more contact during warmups than there was in this game. I’m not going to fault the officiating, but certainly when you get three penalty kicks in the first 20-something minutes of game, that kills the morale and the spirit of the team.”

Portlander Ella Regan scored her girls’ eighth and ninth goals, while Lydia Stein scored their 10th, capping the morning’s offense.

“I honestly really believe we did play well,” Russell said. “We had some opportunities. As a team, we didn’t play very well. There’s a few individuals: the center-mids, Carolyn DiBiase played well; Hope Higgins, our center-back, played well, clearing out and running a trap defense for us, getting us off-sides several times. Making them have to adjust to that is a key to our game.”

The defeat dropped Westbrook to 1-7. The No. 15 Blazes’ lone win thus far this season came 4-3 against No. 17 Massabesic (0-9), back on Sept. 14. They’ve faced some steep challenges, though, including the likes of No. 1 Gorham (8-0-1), No. 4 Scarborough (8-0), and No. 3 Cheverus (8-1) – and those were three of Westbrook’s first five opponents. A schedule that tough is liable to deflate any team, and especially a team trying to develop, to build their way out of several years’ worth of struggles.

Westbrook’s next bout is a road bout, a trip to sixth-ranked Marshwood (4-1-3) on Monday, Oct. 19. The Blazes travel to No. 12 South Portland (2-5-2) on Wednesday the 3rd, and No. 15 Biddeford (1-8) three days later.

Portland, currently sitting in ninth, moved to 4-4-1 on the win.

Adam Birt can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @CurrentSportsME.

Westbrooker Angelica Johns and Portlander Lainey Randall vie for a header.

Allyson LaPierre dribbles forward for the Blazes.

Blazes keeper Michaela Russell pounces on a ball.

Ava Cavanaugh pushes forward for Westbrook in their loss to Portland.

Rylee Troiano boots the ball ahead.

Allison Petry shovels the ball forward.

Westbrooker Carolyn DiBiase clashes with a Bulldogs opponent.

Blaze Emily Sawyer reels in a midair ball.

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