By Jordan Kroeger, SunCoast Sports
ENGLEWOOD — It was a fog-ridden field Tuesday night at Lemon Bay High School and the lady Manta Rays were feeling just as foggy 12 minutes into the match.
Lacing up for the first time in 15 days, Lemon Bay started slow against Cardinal Mooney and fell short in its rally, falling 2-1 and a game below .500.
Olivia Brown and Skylar Jungers each scored goals for the Cougars and their goalkeeper Emily Beck finished with seven saves. Summer Rusher scored the lone goal on a penalty kick for the Manta Rays, who have lost five of their last seven.
“It’s frustrating because I know they can do better. I know that they’re a better team than they showed,” Lemon Bay coach Katie Cooke said. “We’ve just been having some issues lately finding that drive or passion — whatever it is that makes a team click — we’re having a little bit of trouble finding that and it’s so frustrating because I know they have beautiful soccer in them and it’s just not presenting itself.”
Cardinal Mooney (6-6) jumped on Lemon Bay (7-8) early and took a 1-0 lead less than five minutes into the match when a ball was deflected in the penalty box and Brown managed to get her foot on it for a goal. Jungers then doubled Cardinal Mooney’s advantage in the 12th minute, courtesy of an assist from Katrina Winkler.
After the game was delayed for 29 minutes when the lights in the stadium went off in the 48th minute, the Manta Rays found some life courtesy of the Cougars. Rusher was tripped just inside the penalty box in the 62nd minute to set up a penalty kick, which she calmly nailed to the left side of the net to cut her team’s deficit in half.
Rusher then had a chance to tie the score 12 minutes later thanks to a questionable call. Cardinal Mooney’s Grace Miller fought for a loose ball just across midfield and sent it flying back towards Beck, who caught the ball.
The referee ruled it an illegal pass and it set up an indirect kick for Lemon Bay, but Rusher set the shot flying over the right side of the net.
“I sliced it. I turned my hips too early. I just sliced the ball and didn’t make a good connection,” Rusher said.
It didn’t help that the Manta Rays took their sweet time setting up the opportunity, allowing the entire Cardinal Mooney team to fill the net to block the attempt before it was taken.
“When the call was first made they had a chance. The goalkeeper wasn’t really sure what was going on and the other players were confused. We need to use that confusion to our advantage because then you could see after we waited too long then their entire team came back and they had their entire team standing in front of the goal,” Cooke said. “It’s nearly impossible to score a goal with an entire team in front of it. If we had caught on a little quicker it probably would have been a goal for us.”
Lemon Bay goalkeeper Alexandra Gassman bounced back after a rough start and finished with eight saves, with six coming in the second half to keep the Manta Rays in the match. The Manta Rays had plenty chances, including seven corner kicks, and outshot the Cougars 19-12.
“It was just one of those days. I mean, how many times are your lights going to go off? Honestly, I think it was just one of those days that didn’t quite bounce our way,” Rusher said.