By Chuck Ballaro, Sun Correspondent
PUNTA GORDA — The usual custom on Senior Night is for the coach to schedule a cupcake for his seniors to devour.
Charlotte softball coach Greg Higgins doesn’t schedule cupcakes, and it could be because of the four seniors that he doesn’t.
Kaylee Brannon, Tiffany Dodson and Julie Dedrick represent the first blue-chip class for Higgins (Tyra Drouillard came along only this year), one that brought the Charlotte program from years of mediocrity to an area power.
So, ending the season against regional power North Fort Myers seemed apropos … and heartbreaking.
McKenzie Peterson’s RBI single in the ninth inning brought home Natavia Ellis as the Red Knights rallied from a four-run deficit late for a 7-6 victory in the regular-season finale for both teams.
Dodson took the loss in relief of Dedrick, who left in the sixth after the tying run came across.
Ellis led off the ninth with a single, advanced on a passed ball, and scored on Peterson’s base hit.
Peterson pitched eight innings for the win, with Emma Johnson retiring the side in order in the ninth to earn the save for North Fort Myers (22-3).
“We had a boo-boo on defense. When you open the door on a team like that, it’ll find you,” Higgins said, “We were still battling and it was a good game. We just have to get better.”
Trailing 6-2, North rallied to tie the game in the sixth on Shelby Coyne’s RBI double, Haley Weaver’s two-run double that was misplayed in the outfield, and Ellis’ RBI single.
Charlotte put a runner on third with one out in the sixth, but couldn’t score. It was its last real opportunity.
“These kids have heart. We persevered and made some defensive plays and got clutch hitting,” said North coach Jeff Minor. “I tip my hat to Charlotte because they came hitting and it was a matter of who would gut it out in the end.”
North Fort Myers broke a scoreless game in the third inning with a Natavia Ellis bloop single into right field. The Tarpons (15-10) countered in the bottom of the inning. Kaylee Brannon led off with a double, was sacrificed to third and scored on Abby Hayse’s grounder to short.
Charlotte took it 60 feet at a time later in the inning as six straight runners reached base for three more runs and a 4-1 lead. Kaitlyn Hopper, Kerstyn Shaw and Erica Barnes had RBI singles in the two-out rally.
North added a run in the fourth, but the Tarpons again responded with its “death by 1,000 paper cuts” brand of softball, loading the bases with three singles before Alyssa Opsahl singled in a run and Hopper drove in another with a grounder to short to make it 6-2, settings things up for the rally.
Brannon, Abby Hayse and Opsahl had two hits for Charlotte in a game where all the starters had at least one hit. Weaver and Ellis had three hits for the Red Knights.
N. FORT MYERS 7, CHARLOTTE 6
North Fort Myers 001 104 001 – 7 13 2
Charlotte 004 200 000 – 6 13 3
WP: McKenzie Peterson; LP: Tiffany Dodson. Top hitters: (NFM) Haley Weaver 3-5, 2 RBI, run; Natavia Ellis 3-5, 2 RBI. Records: NFM 22-3 CHS 15-10.