By Jordan Kroeger, SunCoast Sports
THE DODSON FILE
Mother: Kathy Dodson
Intended career: Paramedic
Favorite food: Spaghetti
Favorite subject: Science
Least favorite subject: Math
Favorite music: Country
PUNTA GORDA — Through four years on the Charlotte High School softball team, Tiffany Dodson and coach Greg Higgins leaned on one another.
Even through tragedy.
When Dodson’s father passed away from cancer before her junior season, Higgins was there to pick her up and show her the way to stellar softball career in a Charlotte uniform. Following a junior season where she received all-area honors, Dodson set out in her senior year to fulfill a promise she made to her father when he was sick, a promise to play college softball.
“I think after her father passed away, I think she had kind of a little bit more of a direction to where she wanted to make softball a more big, big part of her life,” Higgins said.
After pitching only 20 innings as a junior, Dodson became the go-to pitcher for the Tarpons in 2017, compiling a 7-6 record with 45 strikeouts and an area-best 1.80 ERA in 86 1/3 innings. Put that together with a three homers, five doubles, three triples, 21 RBI and a .368 average at the plate and it was all good enough for her to receive a softball scholarship to Miami-Dade College.
Those stats were also good enough to get her named The Sun’s softball player of the year.
“I always told (my father) growing up that I wanted to play college softball and I actually made that a promise to him when he was getting sick,” said Dodson, who also played first base and right field for the Tarpons. “I told him I was going to graduate high school and go to college to play softball so it pushed me a lot more to accomplish that goal.”
Higgins helped Dodson through the loss of her father from his own tragic experiences. He lost his mother early in Dodson’s career, using those experiences to help Dodson cope.
Then this year, Dodson returned the favor when Higgins’ father passed away late in the season.
“Me and her just had that connection where we’ll lean on each other and we’ll get through this and that’s what we did,” Higgins said.
Dodson credits Higgins immensely for her improvement on the mound during her senior year. It all started in a travel ball tournament prior to the season when pitcher Julie Dedrick had to leave for personal reasons.
That left Higgins to turn to Dodson, who wasn’t even sure she’d be the next girl up. There was a lack of confidence in herself at first, considering the other team was loaded with Division I players.
“She said, ‘Coach, I don’t know that I’m ready.’ And I said, “Yeah, you’re ready,’ ” Higgins said. “And I told her, ‘I’m going to tell you something else, I don’t care how bad the game is you’re pitching. Period. I’m not going to pull you out. If we get beat 30-0, you’re not coming out.’”
She never came out. They didn’t lose 30-0, either.
Dodson pitched well that day, even in a 3-2 loss. But that outing opened her eyes to what she could become as a pitcher in her senior year in blue and gold colors.
“After that she came over to me and I said to her, ‘I’m going to tell you something that not a lot of people get to feel in their lifetime…the feeling that you will get on being on that mound and knowing the game is in your hands and is in your control will be something that once you experience it, it will be with you forever. When she got done with that game, even though we lost, she came over to me and she looked at me and all I said was, ‘You got that feeling, didn’t you?’ She said, ‘I did. And I don’t want to lose that again.’
“I said, ‘kid, that’s what I’ve been trying to tell you for four years now and you’ve finally got it.’”
Dodson showed that right away in her first start of her senior season, holding defending Class 4A state champion Bishop Verot to two hits in a complete game shutout performance. Even in the last game of her high school career — a 1-0 extra inning, heart-wrenching loss to Fort Myers in the District 7A-11 semifinals — Dodson saw everything Higgins taught her come to fruition once she wiped away the tears.
“He was hard on me throughout my career but he just wanted me to get better,” Dodson said. “He’s an awesome person and a coach. He was just a really good coach.”
Dodson says she learned some valuable lessons that night in Fort Myers, even if through some second-guessing. She believes an adjustment at the plate here or a bunt attempt there or even grabbing a Fort Myers bunt in extra innings could have prolonged the game and possibly even Charlotte’s season.
Higgins has watched Dodson’s softball IQ grow larger and larger over the past few months. Those questions following the Fort Myers loss illustrate just that.
Those questions have also led Higgins to one final question when it comes to Dodson’s career at Charlotte.
“I wish that kid was a junior because her senior year would be phenomenal,” Higgins said. “It was a good senior year but just imagine what that knowledge that she keeps learning and she keeps absorbing what kind of person she’d be.”
Dodson couldn’t agree more.
“It’s weird to say but I do,” she said. “I know I have him to call if I need anything but I feel like I need one more year to grow up and become a better player.”
If any growing pains do arise down in South Florida, Dodson knows who to talk to if she needs any more advice.
Even at nearly 200 miles apart, Higgins will never be at a distance.
He’ll always be just a phone call away.
C: Christain Chandler
Lemon Bay • Freshman
Burst onto the scene as not only one of Lemon Bay’s best hitters, but also the area’s best catcher. She hit .347 with five doubles and 12 RBI.
1B: Kasi Shaffer
Lemon Bay • Senior
The Jacksonville signee led the area with four home runs and was second on the team only to teammate Logan Johnson with 23 RBI. She hit .373 with eight doubles, nine walks, and nine runs scored while striking out only five times in 87 plate appearances.
2B: Abby Hayse
Charlotte • Junior
Was one of Charlotte’s top hitters with a .416 batting average. She homered once, had 15 RBI, knocked eight doubles and scored 16 runs. Impressively, she struck out only four times.
SS: Brittany Ferrentino
Port Charlotte • Junior
Anchored Port Charlotte’s offense and defense. She led the Pirates with a .444 batting average and 22 runs while driving in 10 more to go along with five doubles. She struck out just twice and committed only three errors in the field.
3B: Kaylee Brannon
Charlotte • Senior
Was solid in the hot corner and as Charlotte’s leadoff hitter. She hit .379, scored 23 runs, had 14 RBI and homered once as part of her nine extra base hits.
OF: Haley Cabral
Charlotte • Junior
An injury ended her season prematurely but her hitting ability was exceptional. She hit an area best .446 and had eight RBI with five extra base hits, scoring 11 times.
OF: Aimee Holt
Lemon Bay • Senior
Hit .335 with 18 RBI, three doubles and 23 runs scored for the Manta Rays.
OF/P: Logan Johnson
Lemon Bay • Junior
Led Lemon Bay with 24 RBI, hitting .320 with six extra base hits and 11 runs. Also was Lemon Bay’s go-to pitcher, throwing 89 1/3 innings and posting a 9-7 record with a 3.37 ERA and 47 strikeouts.
DP: Brianna Mitchell
North Port • Senior
The power hitting DH led the area with 30 RBI and hit three home runs with a .268 average.
DP: Kylie Murray
North Port • Sophomore
North Port’s top hitter batted .413 with 12 RBI.
Util: Bailey Grossenbacher
Lemon Bay • Freshman
No one scored more runs in the area than Grossenbacher, who crossed the plate 29 times. She hit .357 with 17 RBI and five extra base hits. Also spent a lot of time on the mound, posting a 3-6 record with a 3.23 ERA and 50 strikeouts in 62 2/3 innings.
P: Ashley Nelson
North Port • Freshman
Did it with her arm and her bat. She was North Port’s ace and one of the best pitchers in the area, going 7-5 with 55 strikeouts and a 2.46 ERA in 80 innings. Also hit .364 with 15 RBI and a home run.
Charlotte: Julie Dedrick (P), Taylor Kirkus (C/1B), Alyssa Opsahl (OF)
Lemon Bay: Karlie Sweiderk (2B)
North Port: Liberty Pence (P), Skylar Poitras (C), Cortney Senna (3B)
Port Charlotte: Alyssa Allred (OF), Jaiden Dabney (OF), Olivia Hernandez (OF), Seairra Yiengst (P)