By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
NORTH PORT — When the Lemon Bay High School girls basketball team started to have its lead slip in a game against Cape Coral last week, they panicked and eventually let the game get away.
It was a different story Tuesday night against Imagine, as the Manta Rays held on for a 49-42 win.
“It’s a nice growing step from losing the lead (against Cape Coral), and to be able to close the game out,” coach Mike Young said. “You can practice that all you want, but until you get in the game, and have experience holding a lead or coming back and winning, it kind of builds confidence.”
Lemon Bay held a 33-21 lead with just under five minutes remaining in the third quarter, but when Imagine’s Marlena Marra and Krystal Morales each drained a pair of 3-pointers, the Sharks closed the period on a 12-2 run.
Imagine brought that momentum into the beginning of the fourth quarter, and eventually took a 37-35 lead, but Lemon Bay scored the game’s next seven points and led 42-37 with 2:16 left in the fourth.
“I like how we were really patient and relaxed in the final two minutes,” Young said. “Tonight, we got down and we didn’t panic. We were able to handle the press, we went on fast breaks, reversed the ball, got the ball to the open girl, made our free throws down the stretch – which we didn’t do early in the game – and we did a nice job of rebounding the ball.”
Breanna Nelson made four free throws down the stretch to help seal the game for the Manta Rays (4-1). She ended the night with six points, five rebounds and four steals.
But it was the forward-combo of Kelsey Hansen and Francesca Gallucci who came up big not only down the stretch but all night for Lemon Bay.
Hansen had a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds. Gallucci was a board shy of a double-double for herself with a game-high 13 points and nine rebounds, while also adding six steals and two blocks.
“They do a really good job of being interchangeable,” Young said of Hansen and Gallucci. “They do a nice job handling the ball, too. They can both put the ball on the floor, and they can both rebound really well, too.”
Gallucci helped the Manta Rays build up its initial double-digit lead with five of her points in the second quarter when Lemon Bay won the period 14-7 after trailing by four points in the first.
For Imagine (3-3), it was those 3-pointers from Morales and Marra that allowed them to comeback when it looked like they were on the verge of letting the game get out of control.
“I thought our girls did a great job with that comeback because we were in almost blowout territory there for a little bit, but then we got hot,” Imagine coach Robert Toth said. “Marlena transferred from North Port, and we are blessed to have her on our team. She’s a leader, and a hard, hard worker.”
Marra ended the night with a team-high 12 points and added four rebounds. Isabella Faulkner had 10 points. Aria Andrade had seven points. Kayle Christie had six steals and five rebounds.
The Sharks were without last season’s top player Katie Klein. According to Toth, Klein had surgery on her right leg in September, and will be out for an extended amount of time.
LEMON BAY 49, IMAGINE SCHOOL 42
Lemon Bay 10 14 11 14 — 49
Imagine 14 7 12 9 — 42
Lemon Bay (49): Francesca Gallucci 13, Kelsey Hansen 10, Nelson 6, Maheu 6, Carley 5, Mamalis 2, McGraw 2, Baker 2, Stevens 2, Redman 1. Totals: 18(1) 12-21 49.
Imagine (42): Marlena Marra 12, Isabella Faulkner 10, Andrade 7, Morales 6, Parker 4, Woods 3. Totals: 16(8) 2-5 42.