By Jordan Kroeger, SunCoast Sports
FORT MYERS — It was evident that experience played a big factor in Wednesday’s Class 5A state semifinal between Lemon Bay and Bishop Moore.
One year ago, the Hornets were beaten 1-0 by Miami Monsignor Pace in the state semis with pitcher, and Tulane commit, Josh Bates suffering the loss on the mound. Fast-forward to 2016 and the experience of defeat help Bishop Moore beat Lemon Bay 8-0 on Wednesday.
“That was a game we lost last year. Josh threw five innings and gave up one hit and we lost,” Bishop Moore coach Tony Mehlich said. “Our guys and our senior class especially were expecting for us to come out and get that W and I think they prepared correctly for it and that was the difference.”
Bates took a perfect game into the fifth inning and a no-hitter into the seventh before Trey Fields broke it up with a one-out single. But thanks to last year’s trip to Fort Myers, Bates and company cruised Wednesday and were never threatened by the Manta Rays.
“I had a chip on my shoulder because last year definitely hurt,” Bates said. “We were experienced, we knew what to expect in this game so we were well prepared.”
After playing two to three games a week at 7 p.m. all season long, Lemon Bay played its first afternoon game since its opening day loss to North Port. But that was back in February and this was May, causing the heat to be a bigger factor than the Manta Rays expected.
Lemon Bay coach Casey Harahan pointed to the temperature as a big issue in the loss.
“When you play 7 o’clock games all season and come out here for a 1 o’clock game, it’s hot out there,” Hanrahan said. “Just planning and trying to come up with a better plan to get these guys prepared for this game at this time. The different time of day is a completely different aspect. There weren’t even fans sitting down near the field, they were up in the shade so I think that makes all the difference — being in an atmosphere you feel comfortable playing in.
“I don’t think it was the pressure of the big stage that got us. I think it was the pitcher on the other team and the time it took us to come around and get our energy back up to what we needed it to be to carry through until the end of the game into the next game.”
Wednesday certainly wasn’t the result the Manta Rays were hoping for in their first trip to the state final four. But one thing is certain — the foundation has been laid for future trips to Fort Myers thanks to seniors Matt Molinari, Josh Sweiderk, Zach Taylor and Fields.
The Manta Rays will return 12 underclassmen to their 2018 squad and could very well find themselves back on this stage again next May.
“I think we have a very young team. They have a lot that they can build on and they have just as good of a chance as any other team to make it here again and win the whole thing,” Molinari said.