By Jordan Kroeger, SunCoast Sports
ENGLEWOOD — The two regular-season meetings between Port Charlotte and Lemon Bay High School were decided by a single possession.
They were two evenly matched teams, evident by the fact they finished with the same district record and were seeded fourth and fifth in the District 7A-10 tournament, with home court advantage determined by a coin flip.
But when the scoreboard reads all zeroes at the end of Tuesday night’s district quarterfinal, the third and final contest between the county rivals was anything but close.
Led by 13 points apiece from Celia Baermann and Ashyln Henderson, the Pirates pushed past the Manta Rays on the road to advance to Wednesday night’s district semifinal against top-seeded Charlotte. Port Charlotte also got 11 points from Janae Dennard and a stacked stat line by Gerda Guerrier, who finished with seven points, 10 rebounds and eight steals.
The Pirates led by as many as 17 points and made a living at the foul line, shooting 25/37. Fifteen of those makes accounted for every single Port Charlotte point in the fourth quarter to close out the victory.
“We’ve preached about that all year and we’ve really struggled at the foul line,” Port Charlotte coach Kevin Purcell said. “We usually shoot 45 or less percent from the foul line. Down the stretch we knew it would be a tough game against Lemon Bay and they weren’t going to back down. I’m proud of my girls.”
Francesca Gallucci recorded a double-double with 16 points and 14 rebounds to lead the Manta Rays (13-13). But she was the only Lemon Bay player to score in double figures as Port Charlotte used a zone defense to force 27 turnovers.
Junior Lauren Maheu was held scoreless until she finally got a 3-pointer to fall with 3:43 to go in the third quarter. But that was her only field goal of the night, finishing with seven points.
“Obviously she was a focal point for them. They were on her and they didn’t let her get comfortable tonight,” Lemon Bay coach Mike Young said. “She wasn’t really open a whole lot, and as the game kinds of gets going, she feels a sense of urgency or she feels a need to try and shoot her way out of it. Tonight it just wasn’t falling for her.”
The night started well for the Manta Rays, who jumped out to a 6-0 lead and held the Pirates scoreless for the first four minutes plus until Baermann hit one of her three 3-pointers on the night. Baermann hit another 3-pointer right before the end of the first quarter to tie the game at 11 and Port Charlotte carried momentum into the second quarter, outscoring Lemon Bay 11-4 to take a 22-15 lead into halftime.
Kelsey Hansen, who scored six points and blocked eight shots, open the second quarter with a layup to put the Manta Rays back up 13-11 but that was the last lead they would hold.
The first two games between the squads were decided by a total of five points, and although the Pirates committed 21 turnovers Tuesday night, Purcell says there was one key difference in meeting No. 3.
“We played smarter. We know this is a tough place to play. We talked a lot about ‘don’t be your worst enemy. Play within yourself.’ I thought the first quarter we didn’t do that. I thought the first quarter we were so jacked up that we thought we were playing in the state championship and so we calmed down and we kind of got going and we just kind of took care of it,” Purcell said.
PORT CHARLOTTE 52, LEMON BAY 38
Port Charlotte 11 11 15 15 – 52
Lemon Bay 11 4 9 14 – 38
Port Charlotte (52): Celia Baermann 13, Ashlyn Henderson 13, Janae Dennard 11, Guerrier 7, Livingston 5, Lombardo 3. Totals: 11(5) 25-37 52.
Lemon Bay (38): Francesca Gallucci 16, Maheu 7, Hansen 6, Carely 3, Mamalis 2, McGraw 2, Stevens 2. Totals: 11(1) 15-21 38.