The Lemon Bay Manta Rays (26-2) defeated the Weeki Wachee Hornets (19-5) by a decisive 3-0 score in the FHSAA 4A Region 2 Semifinals on Tuesday night. The Manta Rays entered the contest on a five-game winning streak while the Hornets came in having bested their last eight opponents in a row. Despite this, the Rays enjoyed home-court advantage and swept the Hornets to win the semifinal, completing their fifth sweep in as many games.
The Manta Rays jumped out to an early four-point lead in the first set thanks to a couple of early scores by Sophomore OH Ocean Roth, who recorded a team-leading 11 kills on the night. Weeki Wachee then called a – potentially – timely time out. Coming out of the break, the Hornets scored the next point and showed some life. That proved to be the closest they would come for the remainder of the opening period, however, as Lemon Bay raced out to a 25-11 victory to end the stanza.
Weeki Wachee came out focused in the second period and built an early 9-6 lead before the Rays pushed out to their own advantage of 13-10. The Hornets would respond in kind, gaining their final lead of the set thanks to a pair of serves by Junior Allora Murray. Lemon Bay fired back yet again, building their leadoff Weeki Wachee miscues and a well-timed block by Junior Presley Engelauf and Ocean Roth. The duo led Lemon Bay in blocks with three and two, respectively, as the home team scored seven out of the next nine points. Despite a couple of errant serves late in the period, the Rays continued their momentum and won the penultimate set 25-19.
To open the third and final period, the Rays jumped out to a pair of early three-point leads before extending it to a 10-6 advantage. Hornets’ first-year head coach Noemi Rivera would then call another seemingly prescient time out to stop the bleeding. Coming out of the break, Seniors Danielle McGee and Kristen Pizzano led Weeki Wachee to score three out of the next four points. This was before a final Lemon Bay onslaught saw the home team rattle off five consecutive points en route to a 25-18 win in the final frame. A pair of late surges by the Hornets would ultimately be cut short by their own duo of untimely errant serves.
Valiant efforts by Weeki Wachee in the second and third proved to not be enough to stem the tide. While there were a handful of miscues by both squads, the story of the night was the power and momentum on display by the Manta Rays. Lemon Bay overwhelmed with scoring streaks of three, four, and five consecutive points and launched a volley of kills accompanied by a constant “Boom” from the sidelines of the Englewood gymnasium.
The Manta Rays will advance to play at the Academy of the Holy Names Jaguars (20-8) in Tampa this Saturday.