By Chuck Ballaro, Sun Correspondent
FORT MYERS – Charlotte High School softball pitcher Tiffany Dodson bawled.
Most of her teammates did the same.
Dodson and the Tarpons fought one of the best programs in the state, Fort Myers, tooth and nail, pitch for pitch, and it still wasn’t enough.
The Green Wave finally strung together some hits in the eighth inning before Ryley Topliff’s ricochet single finally gave Fort Myers a 1-0 victory in the District 7A-11 semifinals Tuesday, defeating Charlotte for the fourth straight season in district tournament action.
Charlotte coach Greg Higgins was also misty-eyed, having lost his father Sunday and having Dodson pitch what turned out to be her final high school game for him.
“We had our chances. We had runners in scoring position many times and we couldn’t get that hit we needed,” Higgins said. “We came to play ball and they definitely know it.”
Avery Perkins led off the bottom of the eighth with a base hit. Vivian Ponn’s bunt ended up going past the pitcher for a base hit before Riley Ludlam loaded the bases with another single.
Topliff smacked the ball off first baseman Taylor Kirkus’ glove and off Ludlam, who was running toward second. Because the ball hit a defensive player before hitting the runner, the play was legal and the game was over.
“I know the type of team Charlotte can be when they put it together,” Fort Myers coach Johnny Manetta said. “His kids always play hard, especially during playoff time. I told the girls to come out with their A game and we weren’t as sharp as we could have been.”
Fort Myers threatened early but couldn’t score. Hannah Gormly, who had three hits, was cut down at the plate to end the second, while the Green Wave put the first two batters on in the third but failed to score as it had problems moving runners over all night.
Fort Myers pitcher Hannah Perkins didn’t allow a hit until the fourth, when Charlotte finally began to threaten. Abby Hayse singled and got to third before Gormly’s great catch in left ended the threat. The Tarpons put runners at the corners with one out in the fifth, but a bunt and a strikeout ended the inning in what was their last serious threat.
Perkins scattered five hits and two walks while striking out six in her complete-game win.
Meanwhile, an inspired Dodson matched Perkins pitch for pitch, weaving in and out of trouble and leaving runners on second and third in the fifth and seventh innings before Fort Myers’ final rally.
Dodson allowed 11 hits, but only walked one and got great defense.
Higgins had nothing but great things to say afterward, especially to the seniors who started Charlotte’s march toward success.
“I said one thing I’m proud of, our seniors paved the way for the underclassmen to what they have to do when they experience what they just experienced. It will play dividends in the future,” Higgins said.
FORT MYERS 1, CHARLOTTE 0
Charlotte 000 000 00 – 0 5 2
Fort Myers 000 000 01 – 1 11 0
WP: Hannah Perkins. LP: Tiffany Dodson. Leading hitters: (FM) Hannah Gormly 3-3, 2B; Avery Perkins 2-3, R. Records: CHS 15-11, FM 23-2.