WESTBROOK—The Lady Blazes played a fantastic first quarter vs. visiting Kennebunk on Thursday evening, Jan. 31, but fell flat in the second and never recovered. Mikayla Van Zandt spearheaded Westbrook’s offense in the opening eight minutes – and put up their best number all told, 14 points – but she and her girls suffered the loss in the end anyway: 67-44 the final.

“That consistency factor has been there all season,” Westbrook head coach Diana Manduca said. “I thought we worked really hard on defense the entire game – that was consistent. But we didn’t get our shots to fall in the second quarter. We got the looks, we just couldn’t put them in. And you got to give Kennebunk credit: They hit the shots in the second quarter.”

Kennebunk front-loaded their scoring in the first, picking up a 17-9 lead on points by Ellen Neale, Alaina Schatzabel and others. The Blazes’ initial scores came from Abby Symbol with a three and Van Zandt with a pair of frees; the team went through a bit of a drought then, before waking up once more on a brilliant Libby Cole save at the endline: The ball heading out of bounds, Cole lunged, grabbed it and swung it back inbounds for Sydney Mullett, then regained her footing, received a return feed from Mullett and converted a layup.

Cole showed off her powerful inside presence moments later with another two, bringing her girls within four at 13-9. Kennebunk hashed four more and looked to pull away, but Westbrook refused to bow, and on the team’s next possession, Michaela Russell threaded a hard pass through a swarm of bodies over to Jodi Sinnett, who capitalized. Van Zandt then added a two and two frees, and Sinnett – with just seconds to play before the buzzer – wrestled control away from a Ram on a Blazes’ offensive rebound and popped in the tying layup. 17-17.

Manduca remarked on what made her girls’ defensive efforts so worthwhile: “No one can take a break on defense,” she said. “You have to be sprinting to help. We’ve played Mackenzie Holmes (Gorham) and Emily Archibald (Kennebunk) back-to-back, so we’ve had two good post players…and we’ve been working really hard on trying to just give every ounce of effort – and then give a little more.”

Westbrook’s lone points in the second, alas, came on a Michaela Russell three; the Rams, meanwhile, put up 15. Liz Keizulas and Emily Hogue added threes, while their teammates combined for a battery of twos and frees. At the break, Kennebunk stood on top 32-20 – a wildly different score than that of eight minutes prior.

“I think we’re working so hard on defense that maybe our legs were a little bit tired [on offense],” Manduca said. “But give the girls credit for getting the open looks; we try to get one open look every time down the court, and give [the other team] one contested look.”

Defensively, Westbrook looked strong, even against Archibald. Archibald finished with 22, but only six in the first half, and eight of her total came from the foul line. Manduca charged Avery Tucker with guarding Archibald for the majority of the outing. “I thought Avery did a fantastic job,” Manduca said, “even being a little undersized to play her.” (Tucker is 5-foot-9, Archibald 6-foot-2.)

The Blazes logged another excellent quarter in the third, when they nearly kept pace with Kennebunk. Interestingly, Westbrook committed seven fouls – at least, according to the officials they did – inside the first three and a half minutes, and the Rams scored the majority of their 17 in those eight minutes from the line. The Blazes, meanwhile, put up their 16 on a pair of Symbol threes, a trio of Van Zandt twos, an Avery Tucker two and a fee apiece from Van Zandt and Sarah Muka.

“We were trying to be really aggressive on defense, and block cuts,” Manduca said. “And picking up those early fouls, we had step back a little bit and adjust. When you’re in a game that they call 27 fouls on us and 15 on Kennebunk, that’s going to be hard to win a game when they get free shots at the free-throw line.”

“That adjustment, there’s no real flow to the game at that point,” Manduca continued. “That killed us, because we were stopping the game so many times that we couldn’t get the ball and run on offense like you’re doing well in the first quarter…It definitely is frustrating for the girls, because their effort was there.”

In the fourth, the Rams returned over and over again to the line, putting up 18 further points – 11 of them on frees – before the final buzzer tolled. Despite a trio of Cole twos, however, the Blazes managed just eight in the same stretch, and ultimately fell.

Manduca applauded Symbol’s efforts in particular: “Abby didn’t take a break at all in the entire game.”

The Blazes slipped on the loss to 3-13. Westbrook, currently ranked 12th in A South – that’s a few slots outside the postseason – would no doubt have loved to win against the Rams, given that the Rams are 10-6 at present and occupy fourth. As it is, the Blazes have two games left on their regular schedule: home vs. Falmouth (No. 11, 1-15) on Tuesday the 5th and on the road vs. Biddeford (No. 10, 4-12) two days later.

Neither is liable, if it turns out well for Westbrook, to net the team enough Heal Points to extend their season. Still, it’s worth noting that the Blazes do look better now than they have in quite some time. Fans have good reason to be optimistic.

For a longer version of this article and additional media, visit www.keepmecurrent.com/category/sports.

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

Westbrookers Mikayla Van Zandt (22) and Libby Cole (14) battle a ‘Bunk opponent midair.

Ariana Alcide lofts up an inside attempt for the Blazes.

Avery Tucker curls inward on the attack.

Quincey Lyden battles on offense for Westbrook.

Sarah Muka ascends toward the net for Westbrook.

Jodi Sinnett goes shoulder-to-shoulder with a Rams enemy.