ENGLEWOOD — For the first time in Lemon Bay High School softball history, the Lady Mantas will host the regional finals at Larry Pope Field.
Lemon Bay (15-9) dispatched familiar foe, Lake Placid, 4-1, in the regional semifinals to advance to the final game on Thursday or Friday at 7 p.m. The Rays will meet Hardee High (17-13), out of Wauchula, after the Wildcats won their semifinal over McKeel Academy, 4-3 last night.
Since the Manta Rays are playing a spring football game on Friday, they are trying to move the softball game up to Thursday.
“As a coach, I watched these girls fall apart in pieces part way through the season, because they didn’t know where they fit. We finally put it in their hands and said, ‘you have to work this out,’” said Lady Mantas head coach Kim Pinkham. “And they have. We’re so proud of them. To watch them now and see how much they still like playing with each other is so enjoyable to be around.”
Ella Kraszewski pitched a complete game to earn the victory. Besides the one run, she scattered six hits, struck out three and walked one. In only one inning, the seventh, did Kraszewski give up more than a single hit.
Throughout the 2019 District 5A-12 softball season, there had been a remarkable amount of symmetry between the Lake Placid Dragons (17-13) and the Lemon Bay Manta Rays.
In fact, since the teams were so close in accomplishment, the only way the host team could be determined in the district final was by coin flip – which the Rays lost. Ultimately, however, they won the war by winning the district title and earning the right to host all three regional games. Additionally, Lemon Bay won three of the four games played against Lake Placid.
As has been their custom lately, the Manta Rays put up a crooked number in the first inning. Bailey Grossenbacher led off the game with a walk. She was followed by consecutive hits by Christain Chandler and Leanna Kelly. Chandler’s drive was a ripped, line drive down the left-field line for a double. Kelly’s knock drove in the first run.
Karlie Sweiderk kept the conga line going with another RBI. After the Dragons retired a pair of Rays hitters, Caroline Hill sent the third run home on an infield single. The Rays held the 3-0 lead through two more quickly played innings.
The Dragons managed to get a run back in the fourth on some heads-up base running, but Lemon Bay didn’t wait long before tacking on one of their own. In the bottom of the fourth, with one out, and the count at 1-0, Grossenbacher turned on a pitch to her liking and sent it deep over the center field fence.
“I knew off the bat it was a home run,” said Grossenbacher. “I was expecting the pitch to be outside, because that’s where she had been pitching me. But all of a sudden, she threw it more inside, in a nice spot. Just where I like it.”
After Grosenbacher made contact, Dragons center fielder Kylie Elliott turned and took one step backward, before realizing she would have no chance.
The pitchers ruled the final three innings, though Lake Placid managed to put a scare into the home crowd in the final inning. The Dragons loaded the bases before Kraszewski induced a fly ball to Grossenbacher in center for the final out.
“I’m really excited to be going to the finals, I really wanted to win this game,” said Christain Chandler who went 2-3 with a run scored. “Knowing that we’ve never hosted a regional final makes it that much more exciting.”