GIRLS SOCCER: 8 seniors score for Lemon Bay in rout of DeSoto

ENGLEWOOD — With 10 Lemon Bay seniors celebrating their final regular-season home game at Veterans Stadium Thursday night, the Manta Rays wanted to enter the postseason as a winner for one final time.
They just didn’t know the victory would take only 40 minutes.
Eight of the 10 seniors scored at least one goal, including a hat trick by Stephanie Tieu, leading the Manta Rays to an 11-0 victory over DeSoto County.
“Tonight, things just clicked.” Lemon Bay coach Katie Cooke said. “This is the kind of play that we’ve been expecting from them for the past two months.”
Tieu’s three goals happened over the span of seven minutes with the final one being the prettiest as fellow senior Angelina Beach lifted the ball over three Bulldog defenders, right to the streaking Tieu for the goal.
Tieu wasn’t the only Manta Rays with multiple goals, as Summer Rusher and Hope Robson each finished with two goals.
For Rusher, it could have been a lot more than two, but due to her unselfish nature, which has long been spoken of at Lemon Bay, she passed the ball off late on several attempts toward the end of the first half to give her senior teammates a chance to score.
“We were hungry tonight,” Rusher said. “No one wants to lose their final home game. We had extra fire tonight.”
Fellow seniors Marissa Nebel, Tiara Botbyl, Julia Fair and Kayla Mason, who had also had three assists, rounded out the goal scoring for Lemon Bay.
The lone non-senior to register a stat was junior Madison Ragazzone, who had an assist on Robson’s second goal.
“It’s really emotional thinking back to when I first came up as a freshman,” Rusher said. We’ve developed over the last four years, we became more united as a team and tonight, our scoreboard shows what we can and have accomplished as a team.
For Cooke and assistant coach/husband Jason, this group of seniors means a little bit more because they all came into the Lemon Bay soccer program, together.
“What do you say about this group? Next year is going to be a rebuilding year because some of these players, you just cannot replace them,” Cooke said. “We’ve had them our entire four years here, so they’re like our soccer babies.”
“Losing a group of players like this is a hard thing to let go.”
In five matches since a 2-1 victory over Island Coast on 12/19, which felt more like a loss to Cooke, the Manta Rays are 3-1 and have outscored their opponents 29-2.
“They’re on a real hot streak right now,” Cooke said. “We are hoping to bring that passion and energy on Monday night against Port Charlotte.”
Lemon Bay’s season begins again at 7 p.m. Monday as it hosts rival Port Charlotte in the first round of district play.
“(Port Charlotte) is physically tough,” Cooke said. “A lot of girls play club soccer together, so this game is bragging rights for them.”
“They’ll be physical. They’ll be tough. Our girls are going to have to dig down deep.”

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