Saint Stephen’s has built a softball tradition that, since 2001, includes seven district titles and appearances in regional championship games in 2015 and 2018. The 2019 team, despite an unexpected early exit from the district tournament, set the tone for what should be an incredibly bright future.
Amazingly, the Falcons rode the talents of four middle school student-athletes to an 18-5 record. Saint Stephen’s opened the season 8-0 and 13-1, and was ranked at or near the top of the state’s Class 3A standings into early April. After going 9-1 in regular-season district play and sweeping local rival Bradenton Christian, the Falcons were bitten by fielding errors and dug themselves a 7-0 hole before falling 10-5 to the Panthers in the district tournament semi-finals. It was a bitter ending to a promising season, but great things are ahead.
Seventh graders Alex Call, Julia Girk and Ella Dodge, along with eighth grader Ella Torres were the team’s statistical leaders. They finished as the top four hitters in the lineup. Each batted over .400, led by Girk’s amazing .632 average. Call and Torres paced the team with 24 RBI apiece, and Dodge and Torres pitched more than 100 innings combined and registered more than 150 strikeouts. The quartet also accounted for 36 of the team’s 51 extra-base hits and all four home runs. They figure to be the backbone of the program for years to come, with three still in middle school when the 2020 season opens.
The Falcons are led by Head Coach Shannon Dodge, a former University of South Florida star. Dodge also coaches the Tampa Mustangs, a national level fast-pitch travel team currently participating in the 14U division.
The program’s history boasts several impact collegians. Heading that list is former Notre Dame star Cassidy Whidden, who was a two-time team captain and MVP for the Falcons. She was named all-state as an SSES freshman in 2008, hit safely in every game as a junior when she batted .588, and went errorless throughout the season while playing shortstop. Whidden was just as impressive with the Irish, finishing her career tied for fourth place on the program's all-time home run list with 35 – the most ever by a Notre Dame catcher. She was also fifth in slugging percentage (.597), one of 17 Irish players to have a career on-base percentage of .400 or higher (.406), and posted the eighth-best fielding percentage (.989) in program history during her final two seasons as the team’s primary catcher.
Another program standout of note was Claudia Sbaschnik. Sbaschnik played shortstop and catcher for the Falcons, earning MVP honors three times before graduating in 2018. She was the team captain and led the Falcons in batting average in 2017 and 2018, before moving on to play at Albion College in Michigan.