By Jordan Kroeger, SunCoast Sports
PUNTA GORDA — Two dugouts in Charlotte County are experiencing very different emotions right now.
For Charlotte’s softball team, the season has started with a rush, winning eight of 10.
For Lemon Bay, it’s been the near opposite of late, losing five straight after a 12-2 loss to Charlotte on Wednesday night in a five-inning game shortened due to the mercy rule.
The Tarpons scored four runs in the first inning, four in the third and four more in the fourth, with all 12 runs coming off of Lemon Bay starter Logan Johnson. Tiffany Dodson drove in four of those runs, including a three-run homer to center field in the first inning that broke a 1-1 tie and put the Tarpons ahead for good.
All nine batters in the order delivered at least one hit for the Tarpons, a big change from the night before when they only managed five hits in a 7-1 loss to Fort Myers in their district opener.
“Tonight, I was glad that everyone in the lineup had a hit,” Charlotte coach Greg Higgins said. “I worked on a few things with some of their hands on hitting and I told them, ‘if I’m wrong, I’ll take the blame, and if I’m right, I don’t even want the credit. Just do it.’ And they did it. Three of them did it and said ‘wow, what a difference.’”
The Manta Rays took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first on an RBI single by Kasi Shaffer before Charlotte pitcher Julie Dedrick settled in. Dedrick finished with four strikeouts, giving up two earned runs on six hits.
A sacrifice fly by Lemon Bay’s Karlie Sweiderk scored Deastiny Ashcraft in the top of the third to cut Charlotte’s lead to 4-2 before the Tarpons ripped off eight straight runs. Charlotte’s offense tallied 13 hits off Johnson, who gave up eight earned runs as her defense committed three errors.
“Our problem is when we make errors, they hurt,” Lemon Bay coach Kim Pinkham said. “They’re not with nobody on and two outs, they’re errors that come back to get us. Or it’s the secondary error — it’s not the bobbled ball, it’s then the throw made after the bobbled ball. We’re still working on it.
“We had people playing a little different positions tonight. We’ve had probably six different lineups throughout the year so we’re still trying to find what fits best.”
Abby Hayse and Taylor Kirkus both scored on errors in the bottom of the third to extend Charlotte’s lead to 6-2. Alyssa Opshal, who reached base on one of those errors, later scored on a single by Dodson before Dodson eventually scored from third on a double steal.
The Tarpons forced the mercy rule in the fourth with four more runs. Kaylee Brannon, who scored Charlotte’s first run of the night, scored on an error to put her team up 9-2 before Opshal, Kaitlyn Hopper and Haley Crabral all had run-scoring singles to give the Tarpons the 10-run advantage.
Opshal, Crabral and Dodson all finished 2-for-3 while Brannon went 2-for-2.
“Last night I had several emails to me (after losing to Fort Myers) saying, ‘coach, we’re better than that,’ and I knew that so at the end of the day that’s what I like,” Higgins said. “That’s a team at the end of this season that will be where you want them to be.”
CHARLOTTE 12, LEMON BAY 2
Lemon Bay 101 00 — 2 6 3
Charlotte 404 4 — 12 13 0
WP: Julie Dedrick. LP: Logan Johnson. Top hitters: (CH) Tiffany Dodons 2-3, HR, 4 RBI; Alyssa Opshal 2-3, RBI, 3 R; Kaylee Brannon 2-2, BB, R; Haley Cabral 2-3, RBI; (LB) Kasi Shaffer 1-2, RBI. Records: Charlotte 8-2, Lemon Bay 4-6.