ENGLEWOOD — Lemon Bay Manta Rays’ basketball coach Sean Huber had plenty of reason for concern as he watched his team squander a 15-point first-period lead on home court. But when the final horn sounded, he had plenty of reasons to smile.
Despite a rough middle portion, the Rays staved off a stiff challenge from DeSoto County to win a non-district contest Saturday night, 71-67.
For the Rays (10-6, 5-3), the game was their second in consecutive nights after dropping a district match to Charlotte on Friday.
Though there was plenty of action over the first two-plus quarters, a new game of sorts, began with a timeout with 3:23 left in the third quarter. At the time Lemon Bay and DeSoto (8-8, 1-2 in District 6A-10) were deadlocked at 42-42.
“People tell me I lost a lot of guys from last year, but I still have a lot of seniors that came back,” said Huber. “Listen, we played a tough game last night, but eventually I think our experience came through. It’s a good win. Anytime you win a game on Saturday, it’s a good win.”
Just 26 seconds after play resumed, Sean Shamasian rattled the twine from downtown to give Lemon Bay back the lead it had held much of the night. Though the challenges weren’t over, the Rays slowly began to take charge – in large part by playing cleaner basketball.
The turnovers that had plagued them the previous 13 minutes had been drastically reduced. Additionally, the work of Caleb Geisendorfer and Leon Fleming on the boards, was also present throughout much of the game.
“Yea, I feel like I want to be the guy who gets the rebounds whenever I can,” said Geisendorfer. “It’s an important part of my game and I like to try and go for every one.”
The Rays finished the third quarter with a five-point advantage at 53-48. The hot shooting Dogs finally managed to take their only lead of the game over the final eight minutes (53-55). But, when Geisendorfer hit a turn-around jumper two minutes later, the Rays had seized the lead for good.
“It feels good after yesterday’s loss to get this win,” said Lemon Bay point guard Gunyr Morrill. “They had some shooters that challenged us, but we hit our shots too when we needed them.”
The battle that ensued over the final two-plus quarters, was dramatically different from the opening 10 minutes of the contest. The Manta Rays looked for all the world like they were going to blow DeSoto out of the building. The pace of the game was also significantly slower.
While DeSoto employed a 2-3 zone against the Rays, Lemon Bay remained patient and took the shots when they had them. The Rays opened a quick 5-0 lead and led by a dozen after the first eight minutes (19-7). Lemon Bay finished the first quarter on a 10-0 run.
The pace picked up noticeably in the second quarter. But a layup by Donnie Harvey two minutes into the stanza gave Lemon Bay a 15-point advantage. DeSoto finished off the half down only eight. A 12-4 run by the Bulldogs to open the second quarter brought the game to the attitude-adjusting timeout by Huber.
The balanced scoring attack from Lemon Bay was led by Morrill and Geisendorfer with 14 points apiece. Three others in double figures included Shamasian (12), Martell Yale (12) and Fleming (10).
D 7 23 18 19 — 67
L 19 19 15 18 — 71