BRADENTON -- Four of Manatee's five seniors were in the starting lineup Tuesday night.
"I would love for them to be back with me next year," coach Emmie Foy said, referring to all five upperclassmen.
Given the way the Class 7A-District 11 semifinal at G.T. Bray went, Foy would have been happy to have them for just a couple of more games.
The second-seeded Hurricanes fell 9-3 to third-seeded Sarasota, ending Manatee's season with a record of 18-8.
The Canes swept the Sailors during the regular season, winning both games by a combined five runs. But that had no bearing Tuesday, when Sarasota stormed to a 5-0 lead and rode the momentum all the way into Thursday's district championship game with Braden River.
The top-seeded Pirates beat Venice 2-0 in Tuesday's other semifinal.
As they have done throughout the year, the Canes employed two pitchers. Kellie Gault, a freshman, started in the circle and was spelled by sophomore Hailey Hopkins, who inherited a bases-loaded, none-out jam in the second.
"Kellie throws hard, and we were trying to throw them off a little bit. Hailey throws with a lot of spin, a lot of movement," Foy said. "From the beginning, we had planned on switching back and forth."
Hopkins minimized the damage, allowing just two runs to score, but ran into trouble in the third and was replaced again by Gault. Sarasota tacked on three more runs during the rally, and managed to work out 10 walks on the night.
"We got some tough calls behind the plate. I thought our pitchers pitched extremely well," Foy said. "Borderline pitches that didn't go our way, and when you're forced to throw the ball
over the plate, a lot of times, they're going to get hit. But our pitchers are young and I thought they did fantastic."
The Canes vaulted back into the game in the third inning on a strength of a two-out rally, which was started by Reese Byrne's single and walk to Marriah Wise.
Kiley King followed with a hit, scoring Byrne before Wise darted in on an errant throw home. Amber Schaad followed with a double, slicing Manatee's deficit to 5-3.
But Sarasota tacked on a run in the fourth and three more in the seventh, with the big blow being a two-out, two-run double by Alyssa Price.
And Manatee squandered a golden opportunity in the fifth, when the Canes loaded the bases with none out and failed to score a run.
"We did need a big hit there. But the girls got up there, they took their hacks, they put the ball in play," Foy said. "Luck just didn't roll our way."
Byrne and King had two hits, and Wise reached base three times for the Canes.
"It's bittersweet. We're losing five seniors who are very key players, all of them, and I'm super proud of them and wish them well," Foy said. "But we do have a lot to look forward to. We have a lot of young kids...We'll have to fill in the holes for our seniors, who left big shoes to fill."