By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
ENGLEWOOD — Despite multiple deficits throughout the four-set match, North Port never gave up on the way to beating Lemon Bay in the season-opening volleyball match for both schools.
The Bobcats won 25-20, 25-19, 25-27, 25-22, as Adrienne Moreno won her debut as a head coach.
“They definitely did fight,” Moreno said. “Even though it wasn’t there sometimes, they came back and played aggressive and consistent. It was good. I’m happy.”
North Port relied on experience led by the skills of senior Samantha Tennant and junior Alexis Francavilla. The two took control of the match in the fourth set to clinch the victory in the rivalry.
The Bobcats trailed 21-18 in that fourth set, when back-to-back blocks by Francavilla brought them within a point. Tennant followed with another block to tie the score and set the stage for a rally to victory.
“Just the way these ladies pushed was amazing,” Tennant said. “I think were just able to dig deeper, find it within us, and pull it together.”
Lemon Bay was awarded a point to begin the third set for a delay of game penalty on North Port, and that point turned out to be crucial. Although the Manta Rays held, and lost, an early five-point lead they rallied back after trailing 19-16.
North Port had chances to close out the third set for a sweep, holding a 25-24 lead. Lemon Bay, however, ripped off three straight points to claim the set and stay alive.
The second set belonged to North Port for the most part. Lindsey Matthews and Raychel Sipe each rattled off multiple points on serves as the Bobcats opened a 20-10 lead.
A block by Abigail Hutchinson gave North Port the 10-point cushion, and it looked like the Bobcats were going to cruise to a second win. The Manta Rays steadied to rally for nine of the set’s next 13 points, but the deficit was too much to overcome as Francavilla had key blocks to score the set’s final two points.
Francavilla had multiple blocks in every set, including a few in the opening set. Lemon Bay led 7-2 in the opener, but North Port turned things around to go up 11-9 on the way to taking the first set.
“When we get a free ball, we weren’t taking advantage of it,” Manta Rays’ coach Pat Auer said. “We were giving them too many free balls, too. We had over 50 errors over the four games. That’s 50 points we gave away.”
The teams will have a month’s worth of experience to build on before the return match at North Port on Sept. 29.