ENGLEWOOD – It was a dress rehearsal for Charlotte, and the Manta Rays looked ready.
Lemon Bay (15-11) continued their fast-paced play, moving the ball crisply and running the floor in unison to take care of six-seeded Island Coast (3-23) in the District 7A-R3-10 quarterfinal Monday night, 74-35. The Manta Rays will now head to Punta Gorda on Wednesday for a semifinal matchup with Charlotte (19-7).
“The moment is now, it’s the next five days,” Lemon Bay head coach Sean Huber said. “They’ve put in their hours. I told them in the pre-game speech that this is the time. All those trips to Miami, and all of those butt-whoopings we took in Tampa and Orlando, and all those little youth tournaments that you participated in was for this moment.”
The Manta Rays started their postseason run Monday, but began their district tournament a little sluggish. After falling behind the Gators 7-6 midway through the first quarter, junior forward Caleb Geisendorfer converted on a three-point play and Lemon Bay never looked back.
“I wanted to keep the game plan really simple so all we had to do was execute and not panic,” Huber said. “I was a little concerned in the first half. I thought we had too many turnovers. They weren’t really pressuring us or trapping and I think we had 11 turnovers, although we were getting the looks we wanted.”
The Manta Rays put the game away in the third quarter. Senior point guard Gunnyr Morrill scored 11 points in the third period alone, finishing with a team-high 15 points to go with three rebounds, three assists and two steals.
“In the second half, Gunyr controlled the game,” said Huber. “We got them to come out of their zone and isolate on Gunyr. He could do whatever he wanted. If he wanted to get a three, he could get a three. If he wanted to get to the rim, he could get to the rim. We caused some turnovers, got some run-outs and got that clock running.”
Lemon Bay capitalized on their size advantage underneath. The 6-foot-7 Geisendorfer finished with 12 points and seven rebounds while 6-foot-6 inch senior Leon Fleming tallied 14 points and seven boards. The Manta Rays out-rebounded Island Coast 36-8 and out-scored them 19-1 from the free throw line.
However, Lemon Bay will have no such height advantage against their next opponent – local rival Charlotte. The Manta Rays start four seniors and a junior, and have three more seniors that play off the bench. Many of those players were in uniform when Lemon Bay beat the Tarpons on their home floor, upsetting them in the same round of the districts that they will meet on Wednesday.
“The biggest thing is to believe,” said Huber. “Winning there a year ago shows that if you believe in yourselves and you stick to your game plan and you don’t let the emotions effect you, that you have a chance to win.”
This season, Charlotte defeated Lemon Bay by scores of 68-45 and 50-40. Huber said his coaching staff will get together Monday night to dissect film of those two matchups.
“They’re big, their guards shoot,” he said. “They run fifty set plays. You play zone and they’ll knock shots down. You play man and they back-door cut you. They have an answer for everything you do. We just have to be better at what we do.”
There’s no doubt that Charlotte is the favorite Wednesday night. However, it’s not easy to beat a team three times in a row, and the Manta Rays seem to be playing their best basketball at the right time. The Tarpons are tough at home, but if there’s one team that knows how to beat them there in a district semifinal, it’s Lemon Bay.
LEMON BAY 74, ISLAND COAST 35
Island Coast 10 11 9 5 – 35
Lemon Bay 22 19 23 10 – 74
Island Coast: Karim Babernitch 10, Nahjhae Cook 9, Alex Carchado 9, Conner Roberts 3, Jose Castillo 2, Bryant Martinez 2. Totals: 15 (4) 1-6 35.
Lemon Bay: Gunyr Morrill 15, Leon Fleming 14, Caleb Geisendorfer 12, Martell Yale 10, Sean Shamasian 9, Trevor Hedges 6, Donnie Harvey 5, Tyler Kreissler 2, Jacob Martinez 1. Totals: 26 (3) 19-23 74.