Penalty kicks again doom Portsmouth girls soccer team


PORTSMOUTH — It was déjà vu for the Portsmouth High School varsity girls' soccer team last week.

For the second year in a row, the Division 1 squad was bounced from the playoffs after the game came down to penalty kicks.

Last year, the Patriots lost in a shootout against Smithfield, which went on to win the state title.

This year, the Scarlet Knights of Exeter-West Greenwich were the spoilers, as the team beat PHS in the quarterfinals on penalty kicks last Thursday in an away game. Exeter-West Greenwich goes on to play La Salle in the semi-finals Thursday, Nov. 7.

Despite the season-ending loss, PHS coach Jim Blaess said he was proud of the way his team performed.

"The girls worked really hard and we played the best we could. I knew it would be a very evenly matched game," Mr. Blaess said.

Portsmouth found itself behind 1-0 in the first half before Kelley Coyne tied things up with under 10 minutes left in the half on an assist from Leah Hibbad.

"I liked the way we answered back in the first half," said Mr. Blaess, adding that the field conditions were poor as the teams played through a steady rain.

The second half was scoreless, however, as were two overtime periods.

That meant the game would be decided on penalty kids. A best-of-five in the first round ended in a tie, and then the Scarlet Knights bested the Patriots in a sudden-death situation.

With last year's playoff loss a not-so-distant memory, the Patriots made sure to focus on penalty kids during practice.

"But it's hard to replicate that in training," Mr. Blaess said.

The couldn't-be-tighter match against Exeter-West Greenwich says a lot about his players, he said.

"You have high expectations for yourself. You don't expect to lose. When you play us, you're going to get a tough game. Sometimes luck is involved," he said, adding that it's always difficult to lose an important game on penalty kicks. "Ask any coach in the league."

Twelve girls are returning to the team for next season. "Six of them are starters. We have a great group coming back and we'll have a shot again," said Mr. Blaess.

The coach is proud of how the girls comported themselves this year, both on and off the field. Earlier this month, the team organized a friendly exhibition match against the Newtown High School (Conn.) girls varsity soccer team in memory of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December 2012.

Through gate receipts and other donations, the team raised money for the Newtown International Center for Education, a parent and community organization that supports teacher scholarships and professional development to bring resources to their classrooms.

"You can look back and measure success in many different ways," said Mr. Blaess.


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