By Jordan Kroeger, SunCoast Sports
ENGLEWOOD — Lemon Bay baseball coach Casey Hanrahan put it perfectly following Friday night’s game against Charlotte.
“We ran into a buzz saw,” he said.
That buzz saw was Charlotte pitcher Kevin Conway, who finished with 10 strikeouts in six shutout innings of work to lead the Tarpons to a 6-1 victory. Conway, a Florida Gulf Coast commit, pitched took a no-hitter into the fourth inning before surrendering his first of only two hits on the night.
“He threw a gem,” said Charlotte coach Lavell Cudjo, whose team is 3-0. “I think that’s going to be the key this year. Our pitchers are going to give us an opportunity to win. If we play clean defense with the way our pitchers are going to pitch, we should be in every game.”
The Manta Rays, on the other hand, fell to 0-3 after winning both of their preseason games a week ago. Their only run of the night came on a pinch-hit, run-scoring single from Chase Shork in the seventh after Conway had departed.
Lemon Bay has been outscored 24-13 through three games.
“(Conway) had a heck of an outing, man. We ran into a buzz saw and it was No. 14 for Charlotte High School,” Hanrahan said. “But don’t count us out. It’s only the first week. It’s my job to put the right pieces of the puzzle together. Oh-and-three is not what we expected but I’ve got a lot of faith in this team and I think we’re going to turn it around here pretty soon.”
Trey Fields broke up Conway’s no-hit bid with two outs in the fourth when he sent a slow roller down the third base line that stayed fair and went untouched by both Conway and third baseman Kyle Machado. The only other blemishes on Conway’s record were a walk in the first and a leadoff single by Tyler Kreissler in the fifth, which was followed by three straight strikeouts for the sophomore ace.
“I was just pounding the strike zone and getting ahead early,” Conway said. “I relied on my defense and threw strikes. That’s all I had to do.”
Conway and Lemon Bay starter Brandon Gielow were in a scoreless duel entering the fourth before the Tarpons pulled away. A bases-loaded balk by Gielow and another walk to load the bases again knocked Gielow from the game after 3.2 innings.
Warnner Rincones relieved Gielow and immediately surrendered a two-run single to James Barnes that put Charlotte in front 3-0. Gielow was charged with three runs on two hits with four walks, a hit batter and five strikeouts.
Rincones then surrendered a leadoff single to Shane LeMaster in the fifth before another FGCU commit, Aaron Martins, homered to deep left field to extend Charlotte’s lead to 5-0. It was Martins’ second home run in as many nights.
“The pitcher got behind the count and he put a good swing on it,” Cudjo said of the catcher’s blast. “That’s what we try to teach them — get ahead in the count, get your pitch and put a good swing on it. That’s what he did.”
Zach Taylor relieved Rincones and later surrendered a sacrifice fly to Machado in the inning that scored Robert Oettinger after he walked and advanced to third on two passed balls.
CHARLOTTE 6, LEMON BAY 1
Charlotte 000 330 1 — 6 5 0
Lemon Bay 000 000 1 — 1 3 3
WP: Conway. LP: Gielow. Leading hitters: (C) Aaron Martins HR, 2 RBI, R; James Barnes 2 RBI; Garrett Dunson 3B; (LB) Chase Shork RBI; Records: (C) 3-0; (LB) 0-3.