By Jordan Kroeger, SunCoast Sports
NORTH PORT — The umpires at Tuesday night’s crucial District 7A-11 contest between North Port and Charlotte took poor officiating to a whole new level.
And they unfortunately overshadowed North Port’s biggest win of the season, a 3-1 victory over Charlotte at the Preserve.
Charlotte coach Greg Higgins and assistant coach Tony Brannon were both ejected from the game in the top of the fourth inning. Brannon was wrongly tossed from the dugout for something a parent standing at the fence said, prompting Brannon to enter the field in confusion to ask why he was being ejected. When Brannon didn’t leave the field, Higgins was also ejected as he stood silent at third base.
“Once an assistant coach gets tossed, unless the umpire says you can come out on the field and talk you can’t come out on the field. As soon as he made one step on the field, (Higgins) was gone too,” Charlotte assistant coach John Hayse said.
“What you had there, I don’t know how you describe it. Two wrongs don’t make a right? Two wrongs don’t make a right and unfortunately that’s kind of how that went right there.”
Higgins had already bothered the umpires earlier in the game, even if it was rightly deserved. He questioned the home plate umpire in the bottom of the third when North Port’s Kyle Murray doubled and Liberty Pence was tagged out at the plate only to be ruled safe for obstruction by Charlotte catcher Kaitlyn Hopper.
That was an extremely questionable call as Hopper had to come out from behind home plate to make a play on the ball and Pence didn’t even attempt to slide. Higgins asked for an appeal and the home plate umpire wouldn’t give him one, even though he has the right as a coach to ask.
The run put the Bobcats up 2-0 at the time, but it no doubt also put the umpires on edge the rest of the game. Ashley Nelson then hit a sacrifice fly to score Murray and put North Port up 3-0. Murray also scored in the first inning on a fielder’s choice by Cortney Senna.
“Not that that one play alone changes the outcome of the game or whatever but that’s the call. They make the call and it is it what it is. There’s nothing we can do about it,” Hayse said.
Nelson pitched a complete game for North Port, giving up just one earned run on six hits, three walks and a hit batter. The freshman struck out four and worked out of a couple of big jams, including in the seventh inning with the go-ahead run at the plate for Charlotte.
Alaena Massey hit a two-out double to start a late rally for the Tarpons and then scored on a triple by Haley Cabral. Nelson then walked Abby Hayse and allowed pinch-runner Kaylee Brannon to steal second.
“In the seventh inning I went out and talked to her and I said, ‘Ash, you’re going to win this game. I have all the confidence you’re going to get this girl,'” North Port coach Dennis Bell said.
Bell’s confidence was rewarded as Nelson ended the game with a strikeout to push the Bobcats even with the Tarpons for second place in the district standings. He was also impressed by Nelson’s ability to work through the chaos of the fourth inning.
“Working through that was a make-or-break inning right there,” Bell said. “They put two girls on with one out after that whole fiasco and something very easily could have happened in the game. That was the turning point.”
Nelson’s performance was a big turnaround from less than a month earlier when she was on the mound for North Port’s 11-1 loss to Charlotte in Punta Gorda. Getting a run from her offense in the first inning Tuesday certainly helped.
“We finally got a run across in the first inning. That was key to get the lead right away in the first inning,” Bell said. “It got them going and we just built on it. I would’ve liked to build on it a little more but I’ll take a 3-1 win. Whatever it takes.”
Julie Dedrick suffered the loss for Charlotte, giving up three earned runs on four hits with five strikeouts.
NORTH PORT 3, CHARLOTTE 1
Charlotte 000 000 1 — 1 6 2
North Port 102 000 x — 3 4 0
WP: Ashley Nelson. LP: Julie Dedrick. Leading hitters: (NP) Kylie Murray 2-3, 2B, RBI,2 R; Ashley Nelson 1-3, RBI; (CH) Haley Cabral 1-4, 2B, RBI; Alaena Massey 1-4, 3B, R. Records: North Port (11-7, 2-3), Charlotte (11-6, 2-3).