By GIUSSEPPE UNGARO
Jon Dodson knows how to get under the opponents’ skin with his bat, glove and arm. The Oakcrest High School senior occasionally does the same to his coaches.
Dodson seemingly always had the personality of a relief pitcher, but was never really one before this season. He admittedly wears his emotions on his sleeve, likes to joke with coaches and teammates, and does plenty of talking during the game.
He has always been a stellar fielder and hitter. He also has a strong arm and causes havoc on the base paths. Pitching, however, doesn’t come so easily, but that hasn’t stopped Dodson from accepting more responsibility on the mound this season.
“I never pitched growing up. Last year, I pitched two innings against Millville and did terribly,” Dodson explained. “I gave up eight runs in one inning. Coach said, ‘never again.’”
With new pitch count rules making it tougher to only use a limited number of pitchers, coaches are turning to more players to take the mound. Dodson accepted the challenge, and worked on the new craft in early-season practices. Limited by a leg injury, Dodson couldn’t do anything but practice pitching for much of March, and it paid off.
Dodson has done most of his work in relief, but he does make spot starts, especially during busy weeks. He answered the bell during the Al Hedelt Tournament, recording the win in the championship game, as the Falcons dominated Kingsway, 19-2. He allowed just two runs in five innings while striking out four.
“At that tournament he was asking me to pitch, saying, ‘Coach, I’m good. I got this one. I’m here if you need me,’’ explained Oakcrest coach Sean Olson. “I told him he was probably going to throw. We are getting toward the end of the semifinals game, and I told him he will start the championship game.
“Soon as we got the victory (in the semifinals) he started asking for the game ball. The success only has built up his confidence more. He is a high emotion player. He is emotionally invested.”
“It was weird. I kept telling him all year to pitch me, and when we got to the championship game in the Hedelt, we had nobody else. I thought I pitched a great game. It was awesome. I didn’t know I could do it,” Dodson said.
Dodson knows he can shine just about everywhere else on the diamond. He is among the top hitters in the Cape-Atlantic League, picking up his 100th hit earlier this season against Ocean City.
“Once I hit around 10 hits (remaining) I was nervous. Then I was down to one and it took me three games. It was great to get it off my chest,” he said.
Dodson is also an outstanding base runner, swiping more than 20 bags this season. He also eats up ground in center field, and has the arm to throw out the most optimistic base runners.
“Defensively, I don’t know if you find a better centerfielder. The reads he has are outstanding,” Olson said. “Balls you think are going to fall in the gap, he closes on quickly. He also has a bunch of assists, too. The kid is throwing guys out at second base. When he is not making the play, he is there so quickly that if guys think they may have an automatic double and don’t give it their all, he is gunning them down.”
Dodson is one of two seniors on the team along with best friend Donnie Stone. Both are leaders in completely different ways, as Stone is more stoic and quiet. Dodson will speak up and keep teammates accountable.
Their leadership and play led the Falcons to a No. 6 seed and a home playoff game in the South Jersey Group 2 playoffs, where Oakcrest was upset by No. 11 Barnegat.
Next year Dodson and Stone will continue to be teammates at Neumann College (Pa.). Dodson liked the coaches and the way the team hits. The fact that Stone was also going there only cemented his decision.
Contact Giuseppe Ungaro: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDgisepu
By GIUSSEPPE UNGARO