By Josh Grant, Sun Correspondent
ENGLEWOOD—Just five days before the two teams will meet again in the 3A-13 playoff opener, Port Charlotte High School and Lemon Bay took the pitch with hopes of gaining a competitive edge over the other before the postseason begins.
Despite a herculean effort by Lemon Bay goalie Shane Garner, a pair of goals by senior Noah Couto helped lead his Pirates over the Manta Rays 3-0.
“For us, tonight was basically a tune up match,” Pirates coach Joe Roca said. “I got to see some action from my players who normally don’t start.”
Couto’s first score came in the 52nd minute on a penalty kick after he was taken down on a contested play inside the penalty box by Mitchell Wienke, who received a yellow card for the infraction.
“We saw that was a legit penalty,” Lemon Bay coach Emilio Baradith said. “From that point on, my players started just going down the field and doing their own thing.”
“That’s something that we need to work on.”
Couto’s second goal came in the 65th minute as he streaked past the Lemon Bay defense, took a high pass from just outside the penalty box and put it just past the outstretched arms of Garner.
“(Couto) is the fastest kid on the field,” Roca said. “When he takes off, he takes off.”
Just five minutes later, Jeremiah Ruth finished off the Manta Rays with a laser strike past Garner for the third and final goal.
Despite allowing three goals, Garner finished with 26 saves, as he faced immense pressure from the Port Charlotte strikers throughout the match.
“(Garner) is the best player out there on the field, right now,” Baradith said. “I have not seen a HS goalie like that since I played in high school and I am 50 years old.”
“You don’t have a goalie like him come around very often.”
While the offense struggled to gain any momentum, Lemon Bay had several chances to score, most notably in the 44th minute when Blake Dean had a clear shot to the goal, which was somehow saved by goalie Hunter Cole.
Matias Carbone got the rebound and took an awkward shot, which dribbled into the arms of Cole.
“Offensively, we had our positions and plays that we were working on in the first half,” Baradith said. “It’s a program we’re trying and it’s working, but we need to be more successful.”
Port Charlotte (13-5-2) has outscored Lemon Bay (3-10-1) this season 6-1 in two matches (2-0), and has the across-the-board advantage going into Monday nights district tournament match at Port Charlotte.