By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
ENGLEWOOD — If you showed up late to the District 3A-13 quarterfinal match between Lemon Bay and Port Charlotte High School, it’s very possible you missed Summer Rusher’s game-winning goal.
Rusher wasted no time Monday getting the Manta Rays on the scoreboard with what turned out to be night’s only goal in a 1-0 win to end the Pirates’ season.
The senior scooped up a loose ball in the seventh minute and sprinted with it up the middle of the field. Once Rusher reached the top of the box, she unleashed a near perfect shot over the head of Port Charlotte goalkeeper Grace Stec, who had no chance of stopping the well-placed shot.
“I’m just immensely proud of them,” coach Katie Cooke said. “It was very physical game. It got a little dirty here and there, and I’m proud that they held their composure. They played their game, they got one early and then they held on tight.”
Lemon Bay spent the next 73 minutes protecting its lead, while the Pirates had their opportunities, but they came too few and far between.
Port Charlotte took 19 shots in the match, forcing Manta Ray goalkeeper Alex Gassman to make 11 saves. But after a while, many of the Pirate shots didn’t come from quality spots on the pitch, and plenty of more opportunities were missed on incomplete passes.
“We had opportunities in the first half. We had two really quality opportunities in the first 10 minutes, we just couldn’t put it in the back of the net,” coach Chip Stec said. “We fought them hard all game long, it just didn’t turn out the result I was hoping for.”
As Port Charlotte (9-11) revved up its aggression in the second half, the Manta Rays (12-8) were the ones repeatedly called for yellow cards after easily-avoidable retaliations.
Rusher picked up the night’s first yellow card in the 49th minute when a player on the Pirates quickly took a free kick with Rusher facing the other direction, standing just a few feet away. The shot nearly grazed the side of Rusher’s head, and when it sailed out of bounds, Rusher clapped in the face of her opponent to earn the booking.
“They were silly yellow cards and we had talked to our girls before the game about that,” Cooke said. “There are smart yellow cards and there are not smart yellow cards, and we’ll continue that conversation as the tournament continues.
Three more yellow cards were handed out over the next 14 minutes, with two of them going to the Manta Rays. The second half saw Lemon Bay commit nine fouls to three called on Port Charlotte.
“It got a little chippy there at the end, but that’s always expected when you play one of your rivals, especially an in-county school like that,” Stec said.
Grace Stec finished the night with seven saves on 18 Manta Ray shots.