The Portland High School soccer team has battled injuries, illness and winter weather so far during the 2021 campaign but has still managed to play six matches.
The season started two weeks ago with a three-game set in the Smoky Mountain Cup, which was played in Gatlinburg.
The Panthers lost their opener to Pigeon Forge, 4-1, as a goal by Michael Whitson gave Portland an early advantage.
Following a 3-0 loss to Alcoa, Portland picked up a 5-1 win over Stone Memorial.
Senior Justin Cranford, playing in place of Garrett Bates, sparked the offense with a trio of goals, and freshman Deacon Tuttle added two.
Portland then returned home and defeated Mt. Juliet Christian Academy, 3-2.
The Panthers fell behind 1-0 before rallying for three goals in the first half.
Cranford notched a pair of goals while Carter Birdwell punched another into the net.
Key saves by goalie Dom Rush preserved the win, which came despite having several members of the varsity squad out of action.
The Panthers lost to Wilson Central, 9-0, and dropped a 1-0 decision to Greenbrier last Thursday in district action.
“This was our first district opponent of the season,” Portland head coach Tanner Nelson said. “We still had a number of players in quarantine. The guys we asked to step up did well. They took to the tactical adjustments we asked for and marking was improved. Dom bailed us out several times with massive saves.
“At the end, we didn’t have enough energy or scoring power. Most of the guys had to play all 80 minutes. The only goal of the game was given up with less than two minutes to play. I was proud of their effort, and disappointed for our players that they didn’t at least get a draw out of it.”
Nelson remains optimistic about the remaining matches as the postseason approaches.
“I’m just happy that we have a season in which we can fight adversity,” Nelson said. “It’s much better than the alternative we saw last year. We’re already improving quite a bit, so I’m excited to see what we can do the rest of the season.”