By Josh Grant, Sun Correspondent
ENGLEWOOD—For much of the first half of Monday evening’s Island Coast and Lemon Bay girls soccer match, all eyes in the stadium were fixed on one half of the field.
The Manta Rays dominated the offensive zone all evening, and despite giving up a goal early in the first half, Lemon Bay limped their way to a 2-1 victory.
“In some respect, we were lucky to hang on for the win,” coach Katie Cooke said. “Island Coast came out and worked hard tonight.”
Lemon Bay’s first goal came in the 22nd minute as Angela Beach had a breakaway in the middle of the box and fired at shot at Sharon Churlin, who made a tremendous save from her knees. The ball squirted away from the hands of Churlin, who crawled back to make a second save with the net wide open for Beach.
Before the first Lemon Bay goal, to say that Churlin kept Island Coast in the match would be an understatement. Churlin faced constant attackers—including three minutes before the first goal where she also made back-to-back saves—and despite giving up two goals, she kept her team in the match when it could have been much worse.
“We weren’t finishing the ball when we should have, and that’s on us,” Cooke said. “We have to find a way to find the back of the net when the opportunities present themselves.”
Then, with 30 seconds left in the first half (40th minute), Manta Ray junior Mikalyah Mercediez struck an absolute laser from 35 yards out, just over the out-stretched arms of the diving Churlin for the second goal of the evening.
Churlin finished with 24 saves overall (11 in the first half, 13 in the second), while her counterpart on the other end of the field, Lemon Bay junior Alex Gassman, faced only three shots the entire evening.
“(Churlin) was phenomenal tonight,” Cooke said. “She did a phenomenal job with that many shots coming at her.”
The Gators lone score came in the 46th minute as Island Coast senior Riley Hare took a long pass from midfield, blew by a Lemon Bay defender, and fired a shot into the back of the net from just outside the box.
Despite controlling possession of the ball for much of the match, Lemon Bay left itself with several opportunities to score, but time after time could not find the right foot.
“We have to be more on top of things. That’s where communication comes in,” Cooke said. “Some people were hesitant because they thought someone else was going to go for the ball, so it has to be a position where when we are inside the box, everyone needs to go to the ball.”
Lemon Bay (7-7) will take some time off for Christmas break but will regroup on Jan. 3 as the Manta Rays will host Cardinal Mooney at 7 p.m.
“As a coach, tonight is a little disappointing because you know that your players are capable of much more than they did,” Cooke said. “We need to be a little more aggressive, be hungrier, and want to finish it.”