SOUTH PORTLAND—The Blazes couldn’t quite repeat a recent feat when they dropped in on the Riots for the playoffs prelims on Saturday, Oct. 20 – they couldn’t pull out another upset win, like they’d done just days earlier. 
At the tail end of the regular season, Westbrook triumphed over South Portland 3-2, earning themselves their berth in the tournament. But come the first round, the squads reversed roles: Riot Cooper Melhorn punched home the game’s lone goal late in the second half to secure a 1-0 W for his boys over the Blazes.
“We didn’t want to do anything different,” Westbrook head coach Vincent Aceto said, asked about his boys’ approach to their rematch with the Riots. “We stuck with the lineup that worked in the second half, formation-wise. It worked for the 80 minutes that we played. Credit to South Portland for getting one in. We knew it was going to be a close one…it just happened to [go their way].”
Westbrook held the offensive edge for much of the first half, but the Riots slowly, persistently seized control as the game went on. Both sides defended stalwartly, and each held the other silent for more than 70 minutes. 
“I think we had the momentum in the first half,” Aceto said. “It was just a game of the wind and a game of the halves, really. SoPo played it forward quicker in the second half, so they were able to capitalize on numbers up when the ball got through.”
The wind was quite strong all game, blowing in the Riots’ faces through the uphill minutes, then in the Blazes’ faces for the downhill stretch. Kicking a soccer ball into the wind, of course, is largely disadvantageous.
With 9:21 remaining in the game, South Portland snapped the deadlock. Melhorn’s goal began in a flukey moment, but he played that moment just right. Liam Cooledge, in net for the Blazes – that’s not his usual position – drove forward and dove, grabbing the ball as Melhorn & Co. pressured. 
The force of the ensuing collision sufficed to tear the ball from Cooledge’s grasp, though; it rolled behind him. Melhorn ducked behind him as well – and knocked the ball home. 1-0.
“I’ve got to give credit to Liam,” Aceto said. “He’s not our goalie. Two guys went down, injured and out for the year, last four games, and Liam stepped up. He’s a baseball catcher, and he willingly walked into the position, and he grasped onto it immediately. We’re not here today without him. He came up huge.”
Cooledge has faced a good deal of pressure in his time as Westbrook’s keeper, and given up respectably few points. Certainly no more-experienced goalie would’ve been expected to perform better. 
“He’s had absolutely no goalie training. None,” Aceto said. “Best that we can utilize is his baseball catching ability, to just catch the ball first and hold it.”
As the game neared its conclusion, Westbrook, clearly desperate to extend their autumn, cranked up the heat a bit. Alas, they couldn’t manage to convert.
“We weren’t surprised we were in the playoffs because that was the goal from the get-go,” Aceto said. “But it was very questionable, the last half of the season, with everything that was going on outside of soccer. So.”
No. 12 Westbrook finishes their 2018 at 3-11-1.  The Blazes wended through the regular season well below .500, but their few wins came against solid teams – one of them, in fact, came against Kennebunk, back when Kennebunk was ranked No. 2 (the Rams entered the bracketing ranked sixth, at 7-6-1).
“They were huge wins,” Aceto said of his boys’ triumphs across the season. “And the other games were one-goal games. So they were in everything. They were in, battling, every game. And with some of the personnel that wasn’t available to play some days, the sophomores stepped up and helped us develop as well. That’s the best part of this group – we’re loaded, sophomore and junior.”
Westbrook features seven sophomores – Sabri Lomomi, Tanner Clark, Jackson Thayer, Matt Weymouth, Jacob Thornton, Medad Zahinda and Chris Hatch – as well as 10 juniors: Mahamed Sharif, Beni Lapika, Ahmad Qasem, Yahya Altaie, Dante Lingley, Chris Irakoze, Mohamed Mohamed, Devin Cyr, Yousif Al-Shuwaili, and Cooledge. 
The remainder of the roster consists of seniors Jakob Lynham (the squad’s injured goalie), Nathan Tshibemba, Cooper Mullett, Sean White, Cameron Daye and Max Kimmel. 
Lynham, Mullett, Irakoze and Cyr are the outfit’s captains.

For their part, the No. 5 Riots, now 10-5, advance to the semifinals, where they’ll face fourth-ranked Cheverus (9-3-2). The game is slated for Tuesday the 23rd.

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

Westbrook’s Jacob Thornton and South Portland’s Damir Brkic clash in pursuit of a header.

Mahamed Sharif chases down a loose ball for the Blazes.

Westbrook’s Chris Irakoze pressures as South Portlander Alberto Kissaka unwinds into a kick.

Yahya Altaie knocks a ball away for Westbrook.

Devin Cyr wheels away from a South Portland opponent in pursuit of a loose ball.

Beni Lapika chases a ball for the Blazes.

Westbrooker Mohamed Mohamed ducks around a South Portland opponent.