By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
ENGLEWOOD — Lemon Bay High School played Imagine School at North Port in the season finale Thursday, with the sun setting on the regular season.
But the sun didn’t even have time to set, as the Manta Rays defeated the Sharks in a quick one hour, five-minute game with plenty of light to spare.
Lemon Bay needed only four innings for the win, with a mercy-enforcing six runs in the final frame to beat the Sharks 15-0.
“We’ve had some people really step up and make improvements this season,” coach Kim Pinkham said. “I think they’re going to be big for us next week (in the district tournament). Really it all comes down to Tuesday. It’s win or go home.”
Leanna Kelly, Summer Jones, Aimee Holt and Kasi Shaffer had consecutive run-scoring hits to seal the Manta Rays’ victory. Shaffer capped the evening with a two-run double for her third two-bagger of the game.
Things went in Lemon Bay’s favor right from the start. Imagine’s leadoff hitter Julianna Ortiz ripped a line drive in the gap between second and third base, but Kelly at shortstop quickly reacted to her glove side to get the out.
Defense made some key plays behind starting pitcher Logan Johnson, who only allowed three base runners on the way to a no-hitter. Other than an error in the first, and a walk and fielder’s choice in the third, Johnson retired every Shark she faced.
“She struggled a little here and there,” Pinkham said. “But this was the game to work on it. She knows she’s getting tuned up for districts. We can’t say enough about what she’s done for us this season.
Lemon Bay’s offense wasted no time getting on the scoreboard, scoring six runs in the first inning.
Jones led things off with a single, and eventually came around to score on another Shaffer double. The Manta Rays sent 11 batters to the plate in the first inning thanks to four hits, three walks and a hit by pitch.
“She had a great day at the plate,” Pinkham said of Shaffer, who had four RBI and a pair of runs scored. “Some nice opposite field hits. You can’t ask for more than that. It shows good discipline at the plate. It’s always nice to see out of one of your captains.”
Eight of the nine batters in Lemon Bay’s starting lineup scored a run in the win. Destiny Ashcraft was the lone Manta Ray not to cross the plate, but it was her at-bat in the first inning which allowed the game to break open.
With the bases loaded, Ashcraft remained patient until she found her pitch. Along the way, Francesca Gallucci and Brooke Kvaternick scored on a wild pitch and passed ball, respectively.
Ashcraft eventually saw a pitch to hit, and drove in Rayne Wells for a 6-0 Lemon Bay lead.
This was the second time these two teams squared off this year. In the season-opener, Lemon Bay defeated Imagine 13-2.
“It’s definitely a better outcome than when we played them the first time,” Pinkham said. “We really struggled defensively last time. But now the regular season is over. Now it’s about the playoffs, and being ready to go on Tuesday.”
LEMON BAY 15, IMAGINE SCHOOL 0
Imagine 000 0 — 0 0 4
Lemon Bay 612 6 — 15 11 1
WP: Logan Johnson; LP: Maddie Baker. Leading hitters: Kasi Shaffer (LB) 3-4, 3 2B, 4 RBI, 2 R; Summer Jones (LB) 3-4, 3 R, 3 RBI; Brooke Kvaternick (LB) 0-0, 3 BB, 2 R. Records: Lemon Bay 11-9, Imagine 2-9.