By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
ENGLEWOOD — Headed into Friday’s game between Lemon Bay and Charlotte High School, both teams knew the district matchup would be an important test.
Plenty has happened for both teams since their meeting back in the beginning of the season, and they understood a win would prove what they’ve accomplished over that time.
The Manta Rays showed they were now the better team, at least for Friday night, defeating the Tarpons 63-59.
“I’m excited. It’s nice to beat Charlotte because I have so much respect for them, and their program and coaches,” said Lemon Bay coach Sean Huber, whose team lost 59-53 to Charlotte on Dec. 3.
“The things we’ve worked on over the last week and a half were rebounding and defense. We’ve been giving up too many points, so we tried to keep them to 14 points or less a quarter. If you (take away Trevor Bokon’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer to close out the game), that’s 56 points and that’s right on par.”
Jake Comer shot lights out for the Manta Rays, drilling six 3-pointers on the way to a game-high 20 points.
Although he only scored four points, Hayden Wolff played a huge role for Lemon Bay in the win. The sophomore forward battled for a game-best 10 rebounds and also added four assists.
The performance by Wolff was crucial, as he helped the Manta Rays (8-5, 4-4) to a 28-21 advantage in rebounds, a category the Tarpons (7-6, 5-2) won by nearly a two-to-one margin last time out.
“Hayden Wolff is a beast on the boards,” Huber said. “He has the biggest hands I’ve ever seen. He did a great job.”
Wolff’s frontcourt partner Tyler Caron had a hot start to the game, scoring his seventh point early in the second quarter, but an ankle injury for Caron forced Huber to turn to Taylor Bottenfield for some crucial minutes. Bottenfield took advantage of his opportunity, scoring six points in the third quarter.
Lemon Bay’s (8-5, 4-4 in District 7A-10) lead was as large as 11 points in the fourth quarter, but the Tarpons sank four 3-pointers in the final period to keep it close. The Manta Rays made their free throws to close out the game, going 7 for 8 from the line in the fourth.
Charlotte (7-5, 5-2) had its opportunities in this one, but couldn’t get some of the easy looks to fall.
“I thought both games were really even,” said Charlotte coach Tom Massolio of the two meetings between his Tarpons and the Manta Rays.
“We just didn’t do a real good job of executing tonight, and that’s uncharacteristic of us. We usually execute pretty well. Tip your hat to Lemon Bay. They played a great game tonight.”
The Manta Rays won the first quarter 16-10, and then just had to protect the lead from there as they brought a 30-27 lead into halftime.
Trevor Bokon came off the bench and scored eight points in the fourth quarter to tie Makai Reaves with a team-best 12 points. Ahmad Johnson scored nine points, and Kenny Scribner and Jayden Grant each scored six points.
Wolff helped hold Charlotte’s Will Batts to just four points and six rebounds.
For Lemon Bay, Keegan Wyman chipped in with 14 points. Cade Huber scored all six of his points in the fourth quarter and scattered four assists on the night.
Both teams will be participating in the Battle at the Beach shootout Saturday at Venice High School. The Manta Rays are scheduled to face Fort Myers at 12 p.m., with Charlotte and Lakewood Ranch set for 3 p.m.
LEMON BAY 63, CHARLOTTE 59
Charlotte 10 17 14 18 — 59
Lemon Bay 16 14 14 19 — 63
Charlotte (59): Makai Reaves 12, Trevor Bokon 12, Johnson 9, Haas 7, Scribner 6, Grant 6, Batts 4, Ingle 3. Totals: 20(9) 8-11
Lemon Bay (63): Jake Comer 20, Keegan Wyman 14, Caron 7, Bottenfield 6, Huber 6, Morrill 4, Wolff 4, Reid 2. Totals: 21(11) 10-11 63.