By Jordan Kroeger, SunCoast Sports
PORT CHARLOTTE – The Pirates were caught looking ahead in last year’s district tournament and were promptly upset by Island Coast in the first round.
That wasn’t about to happen again in 2017.
Port Charlotte High School, which earned the No. 3 seed this year, learned its lesson and that was evident in Monday night’s District 3A-13 quarterfinal against sixth-seeded Lemon Bay.
Five different players scored for the Pirates as they jumped out to an early lead and rolled to a 6-0 victory over the Manta Rays at home. Port Charlotte will hit the road for the district semifinals on Wednesday night against second-seeded Cape Coral, which defeated seventh-seeded Island Coast 1-0 in another quarterfinal Monday.
“I expected to come out this way. I was looking forward it,” Port Charlotte coach Joe Roca said.
The Pirates (14-5-2) scored less than five minutes into the match when Joel Requena headed in a free kick by Noah Couto for a 1-0 lead. The Manta Rays (3-11-1) then lent a hand – or a head – to the Pirates for their next goal as Lemon Bay defender Diego Hernandez tried to clear a ball out of his own end, but instead, headed it backwards into the net in the 27th minute to give Port Charlotte a 2-0 lead heading into halftime.
“We had a killer instinct from the start but we played a little kickball in the beginning,” Roca said. “In the second half, I said, ‘You’ve got to take control of the ball.’ And that’s what they did. They controlled the ball the whole second half. As long as our defensive third moved up and stayed up, that’s what I was looking forward to.”
Port Charlotte outshot Lemon Bay 30-9 and really piled it on late. After Couto found the net himself in the 48th minute, courtesy of an assist from Jeremiah Ruth, the Pirates scored three goals over the final 12 minutes.
Ruth made it 4-0 with a score in the 68th minute and his brother, Nate, extended the advantage to 5-0 less than three minutes later. Freshman Michael Gonzalez finished off the night in stoppage time when he took a pass from Josh Reyes and drilled it by Lemon Bay goalkeeper Shane Garner, who finished with 15 saves.
Port Charlotte goalkeeper Hunter Cole only had to save three shots all night.
“That score really hurts but we tried to do our best,” Lemon Bay coach Emilio Baradith said. “The team fighting (with each other) inside the field doesn’t work. It never works and that’s what killed it. We didn’t trust each other inside the middle. We tried to give them a different game but my goalie can only do so much.”
The Pirates took all three meetings from the Manta Rays this season by a combined score of 12-1. It was once again a physical game played between cross-county rivals that saw a lot of fouls called and even a yellow card handed out to Lemon Bay’s Max Minucci.
“That’s because our guys really wanted to win and then they started getting mad at each other and that’s where you lose the game,” Baradith said. “As soon as you start fighting with your own teammates, the trust goes away and you start making mistakes, and that’s when you start losing the game.”
Port Charlotte will now try to find a way to finally defeat Cape Coral, which won the teams’ only meeting this season 3-0 on Dec. 19.