By Jordan Kroeger, SunCoast Sports
ENGLEWOOD — Two outs and no runners on base usually signal the end of an inning is near.
But in Wednesday night’s Region 5A-3 semifinal, it was just the beginning of an offensive explosion for Lemon Bay.
The Manta Rays scored 11 runs — all with two outs — in the second inning on the way to defeating Lake Placid 13-0 in five innings at Jack Lewellyn Field to advance to their first region final since 2000. The Region 5A-3 championship will be Tuesday at Lemon Bay, where the Manta Rays will host Hardee to try and earn their first trip to the state semifinals in program history.
Lemon Bay was eager to finally play after a 13-day layoff. Jacob Treece and Matt Molinari each drove in three runs, while Warnner Rincones and Cole Dukes both batted in two more. Pitcher Trey Fields, who no-hit Lake Placid in the District 5A-12 championship, threw another complete game and struck out six while giving up only two hits.
“The layoff didn’t hurt us. We used it as an advantage because the boys came out as ready as they could possibly be to play this game tonight and they were pumped up,” Lemon Bay coach Casey Hanrahan said after his team’s fourth victory over Lake Placid this season. “They were confident and I couldn’t be more proud of our program and everyone involved. It’s amazing. It’s just a great atmosphere around here and I just want to keep it going for as a long as possible for everyone involved.”
Lake Placid went through four pitchers in the second inning while Lemon Bay went through 16 batters, taking advantage of eight hits, three walks and three hit batters.
Starting pitcher Sam Callahan let Chace Shork score the first run of the night on a double steal home. Callahan later exited when he loaded the bases with two outs after surrendering an RBI single to Rincones and an RBI double to Treece.
Cody Jolley took over for Callahan down 3-0 but lasted only six pitches. He walked one batter on four pitches to bring home another run and watched another runner score on a passed ball to put Lemon Bay up 5-0.
It was then Wes Clark’s turn on the mound but he also failed to record an out. Clark loaded the bases again with a walk and Molinari made him pay with a bases-clearing triple in the pouring rain to extend Lemon Bay’s lead to 8-0.
“That inning was crazy,” said Molinari, who went 2-for-2. “I think it was raining the hardest when I was up to bat. I told the umpire, ‘I think that we should call it here. It’s raining too hard to swing,’ but it worked out.
“The rain was coming off my helmet and sparkling everywhere, but it was fine.”
Molinari was originally set to bat fifth in Tuesday’s lineup before the game was postponed due to poor conditions from rain. He was dropped to seventh in the order on Wednesday, providing the senior catcher with some extra motivation.
“I think they think the pitchers are going to throw more consistent to the lower part of the order, which gave me an advantage,” Molinari said. “They didn’t throw the crazy stuff to the lower batters trying to get outs.”
Molinari’s triple didn’t end Clark’s night, but Dukes soon would. After Clark walked Flynn Stewart, Dukes delivered a double to score both runners for a 10-0 lead.
J.J. Huergo replaced Clark and gave up an RBI single to Rincones before finally getting Treece to fly out to end the onslaught.
“It just starts with a little bit of momentum,” Hanrahan said. “The first inning we hit the ball hard but it was right to people. In the second inning, we had a hit batter or something to get the ball rolling and we just fed off of it and continued going through rain and everything.”
Lemon Bay scored two more runs off Huergo in the fourth on a double by Treece.
Up next for the Manta Rays is a matchup with Hardee, a familiar foe that was in Lemon Bay’s district two years ago. The ride to the region finals has been a wild one for the Manta Rays, who received a forfeit by Dunbar in the district semifinals to earn a berth into regionals and later a bye into the region semifinals when Bayshore vacated its spot because it used an ineligible player.
“These boys have done some unbelievable things this year coming back from a 1-6 start, trying to figure out who we were, finally pulling it together and now it feels like we have a lot of momentum,” Hanrahan said.
LEMON BAY 13, LAKE PLACID 0
Lake Placid 000 00 — 0 2 1
Lemon Bay 0110 2X — 13 10 0
WP: Trey Fields. LP: Sam Callahan. Leading hitters: (LB) Matt Molinari 2-2, 3B, 2 R, 3 RBI; Jacob Treece 2-4, 2 2B, R, 3 RBI; Warnner Rincones 2-3, BB, R, 2 RBI; Cole Dukes 1-2, 2B, R, 2 RBI. Records: Lemon Bay 18-9, Lake Placid 10-15.