By Chuck Ballaro, Sun Correspondent
NORTH FORT MYERS — For about 25 minutes, Lemon Bay’s girls soccer team was able to hold one of the best teams in the state at bay, just like last time they played.
And, like last time, the Manta Rays eventually got hit by an avalanche of goals.
Taylor Kruse had two goals and two assists for North Fort Myers, and Emilee Hauser also scored a pair as the Red Knights shook off a slow start for an 8-1 victory Wednesday in the District 3A-13 tournament semifinals at Moody Field.
The Manta Rays were hit with bad luck when they missed an empty net shot and lost their top defender to concussion protocol, the latter of which proved damaging.
“I was proud of the way we held them down. Even at the half it was 2-0 and the game wasn’t over,” Lemon Bay coach Katie Cooke said. “It was disappointing, but sometimes that’s the way it goes.”
Lemon Bay (11-9) did a great job early collapsing on the North attack, which was unable to finish the opportunities it had.
Finally, in the 27th minute Kruse took a nice pass from Macey Eckhart and drilled a laser past Manta Rays goalkeeper Alex Gassman for a 1-0 lead. Lemon Bay has a golden opportunity to tie the game a minute later as North goalkeeper Summer Ackerson overcommitted, leaving Zoe Melo with a wide open net at point blank range.
The Red Knights (19-1-1) didn’t miss much after that, as Hauser took a centering pass from Kruse in front of the net in the 32nd minute to make it 2-0 at the half.
It was all North in the second half as it scored five goals in 13 minutes to blow the game wide open. Lemon Bay lost Erica Mulvaney, its best stopper, to a possible concussion, to help open the floodgates.
“We had to stick someone back there who wasn’t familiar with the position and the defense got confused,” Cooke said. “They scored two goals with her out and it devolved from there.”
Kruse, Hauser, Tori Kowalczyk, Taylor Metzger and Michelle Cohen scored during the onslaught before Lemon Bay finally scored in the 68th minute when Summer Rusher scored on a penalty kick.
Brooke Hawkins ended the scoring for North a moment later.
“The first half was frustrating. We must’ve missed at least five opportunities. We have to finish better and we did in the second half,” North coach Nick Erickson said.
After having nine seniors on her team this season, Cooke faces a rebuilding year next season. She said she is looking forward to the challenge.
“I was happy with this season and having all those seniors. It’s going to be tough letting them go because you can’t replace the energy and attitude they had,” Cooke said. “We look forward to having a lot of young players and the future of Lemon Bay soccer.”