PORT CHARLOTTE – In warming up for Tuesday’s showdown with Mariner, Lemon Bay showed out at Port Charlotte and spoiled the Pirates’ soccer home opener.

The Mantas defeated Port Charlotte 8-0 on Monday, scoring the final two goals in rapid-fire fashion late in the second half to halt play. Lemon Bay improved to 5-1 with the win and now sets its sights on a former district rival who snatched away last year’s district championship via a 3-1 overtime decision.

“It’s always a battle with Mariner,” Lemon Bay coach Katie Cooke said. “Sometimes they win, sometimes we win, so it really just depends on who wants it more.”

Lemon Bay earned a measure of revenge after that district loss, ending the Tritons’ season 11 days later in the Class 4A region semifinals.

Sophia Cherniak generated most of Lemon Bay’s scoring during a first-half onslaught. She scored the match’s first two goals, then delivered an assist on Jacoby Maldonado’s score. After Alaina Mast won a scramble in the box for Lemon Bay’s next goal, Cherniak stripped the ball from a Pirate and fired on goal for a hat trick and a 5-0 halftime lead.

“We changed it up so we have Jacoby in center-mid, Sophia as sort of a striker and Anabel Mallard is playing our stopper position,” Cooke said.

“With the three of them up the center, it has really helped our offensive push, so that is going much better than it was (earlier in the season).”

Port Charlotte (1-3) made some defensive adjustments coming out in the second half and for most of the period, other than a Haylee Marsicovetere goal, played the Mantas straight-up.

“We made our adjustments and until the three-minute mark at the end of the game, it was a 1-0 game in the second half,” Pirates coach Bob Theriault said. “We are making adjustments and we’re starting to communicate, but our problem this whole season has been we give up an early lead.”

In the final minutes, Maldonado knocked home her second goal, then Cherniak lofted a perfect pass to the middle, where Kerri Matson gathered it in and ended the game.

It was a rough result for a young Port Charlotte team, but Theriault said that was partially by design.

“I always take a lineup at the beginning of the season and I put us up against the toughest teams that I can find to play against, in order to teach us what’s going to happen down the road,” he said. “So we always take a couple of knocks, but this team has responded better than the last couple of years.”

Theriault said the goal is to be better at season’s end than the beginning, especially with an entirely new group of starters. Among the fresh faces are Alyssa Waldeck, Peighton Wadsworth and Faith Gibbons. Seniors Ava Hilton and Trea Taylor are the ones Theriault is counting on to lead the group.

“She’s a middle and a senior and she’s pretty much our experience,” he said. “Trea, our goalkeeper, she’s just coming along so much, too. She’s doing really well.

“We have a whole new starting team this year, so it’s going to take us a bit to jell,” Theriault added. ”The one good thing is this team plays well together, as far as the teamwork concept goes.”

For Lemon Bay, the early season is mostly about getting a new group on defense up to speed before districts.

“We’re still working out some kinks, but they’re starting to communicate and understand the system,” Cooke said. “Every game gets a little bit better. So far, so good. We’re moving in the right direction.”

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