By Jordan Kroeger, SunCoast Sports
ENGLEWOOD — Sometimes it takes a little help to get out of a little slump.
Coming off back-to-back losses before spring break, North Port got just that to squeeze by Lemon Bay Tuesday night.
The Bobcats scored four unearned runs in the second inning thanks to two Lemon Bay errors and held on to defeat the Manta Rays 4-2 at Larry Pope Field. It’s the first time under coach Dennis Bell that North Port has swept the season series from Lemon Bay.
Freshman pitcher Liberty Pence pitched a complete game for the Bobcats, giving up two earned runs on five hits with eight strikeouts. Pence is now 5-2 on the season with a 1.60 ERA.
“Liberty pitched well. I couldn’t have asked of anything more from her,” Bell said. “We haven’t played since the Friday before spring break so for her to come out and do what she did was very impressive.”
Logan Johnson suffered the loss, but it was her defense that deserved it. Johnson gave up no earned runs on five hits with two strikeouts in four innings.
With two outs in the second inning, Johnson got North Port’s Kamryn Nazario to hit a routine ground ball to shortstop Leanna Kelly for what should have been the final out of the inning. Instead, Kelly misplayed the ball, Nazario reached first base safely, and the inning quickly got away from the Manta Rays.
After Nazario moved to third on two passed balls, Brianna Heider brought her home with an RBI single to give North Port a 1-0 lead. Cortney Senna followed with another single and Heider later scored when Pence reached base on Lemon Bay’s second error. Kylie Murray and Ashley Nelson then had consecutive RBI singles to put the Bobcats up 4-0.
“It’s a killer. Unfortunately, on four pitches and two outs, everything got away and that’s kind of been the story of our year,” Lemon Bay coach Kim Pinkham said. “We make a mistake and it comes back to bite us in a big way,”
Lemon Bay answered North Port with a run in the bottom half of the inning when Christian Chandler hit singled home Kasi Shaffer, who had a leadoff double. But Pence then settled down, retiring 12 of the next 14 hitters before giving up a single to Johnson in the sixth inning that was followed up with an RBI double by Shaffer, who finished the night 3-for-3.
Johnson also settled down for Lemon Bay before being replaced in the fifth by Bailey Grossenbacher, who threw three innings of no-hit ball to keep the Manta Rays within striking distance.
“Logan and Bailey both pitched very well. They both did a very good job. We’ve just got to stop making stuff hurt,” Pinkham said.
Chandler drew a leadoff walk in the bottom of the seventh to bring the tying run to the plate, but Pence retired the final three hitters to take a victory back to North Port.
“We did our damage in the one inning that we needed to and our defense held,” Bell said. “Liberty threw strikes tonight. She stayed ahead and didn’t allow many freebies. That’s the name of the game.”
NORTH PORT 4, LEMON BAY 2
North Port 040 000 0 — 4 5 0
Lemon Bay 010 001 0 — 2 5 2
WP: Liberty Pence LP: Logan Johnson. Top hitters: (NP) Kylie Murray 1-4, RBI; Ashley Nelson 1-4, RBI; Brianna Heider 1-3, RBI; (LB) Kasi Shaffer 3-3, 2 2B, RBI, R; Christian Chandler 1-2, RBI, BB. Records: North Port 9-4, Lemon Bay 4-8.