By Tony Adams, Sports Editor
To get better, you always have to play the best competition. The Belton Lady Tigers have scrimmaged one another in practice, had gotten better and took on a very good field in a preseason bracket tournament in Round Rock in January.
The Lady Tigers opened up the season with a bracket tournament in Bryan and College Station at the 20th Annual BCS Tournament.
Belton went 4-2 in the tournament, winning 4-0 against Clear Springs and 4-0 against Mansfield Legacy on Thursday, fell to Class 5A No. 2 Fort Bend Ridge Point 1-0 and Class 6A No. 10 Alvin 3-1 in an international tiebreaker game on Friday and finished the tournament with a 9-5 win over Class 5A No. 8 Elgin and 9-4 win over Friendswood.
Belton outscored its opponents 27-13, but scored just one run on Friday allowing four. The Lady Tigers finished in 13th place in a field of 64. It was lower than the sixth place finish in 2015, but the upper part of the bracket that Belton was in contained eight teams that went a minimum of two rounds deep in the postseason in 2015.
Belton 4 Clear Springs 0
The tournament opened at Veteran’s Field 1 in College Station on Thurdsay. In the game against Clear Springs, Destynie Moore reached base to lead off the ball game with a passed ball third-strike and advanced to second on Avery Drake’s sacrifice bunt. Andrea Hearn, the Chargers lead-off hitter, singled and was sacrificed to second base by Macy Brown, but Sidney Holman neutralized the threat with a pair of strikeouts.
The Lady Tigers got on the board in the fourth inning with Holman and Caleigh Robinson walked. Sydney Andrews ran for Holman and Meredith Lusby reached base on an error by Charger second baseman Gabi Roderman to load the bases. Kendall Mraz hit a 1-1 pitch over the left field foul pole for a grand slam homer, scoring all four runners.
Mraz’s clout was all Holman needed in the circle, as allowed four hits, striking out 12 Chargers, walking none and got solid defense, which included an unassisted double play at first by Robinson to end the ball game.
Belton 4 Mansfield Legacy 0
The Lady Tigers reached base in every inning against Mansfield Legacy in another game played at Veterans Field 1. They scored in the fourth inning, as Robinson singled with two outs and scored on Andrews’ double to center field.
Belton picked up another key hit in the fifth, as Drake’s speed beat out a third-base bobble. Bethany Edwards was hit by a pitch, Holman bunted them into scoring position and Mraz laced a double into the left field corner to make the score 3-0.
Edwards singled and advanced to second on an error on the left fielder in the top of the seventh inning. Mraz was hit by a pitch and Edwards scored on Lusby’s since to right field to make the score 4-0.
Holman was electric in the circle, tossing her first no-hitter of 2016, striking out 10 and walking a pair.
The two wins on the first day advanced Belton into the Sweet 16 round of the Winners Bracket to take on Ridge Point, the Class 5A state runner-up in 2015 and second-ranked Class 5A squad in the Texas Girls Coaches Association Preseason Top 10.
Fort Bend Ridge Point 1 Belton 0
In a game at College Station High School, the game against Ridge Point was a pitcher’s duel of the best proportions, Belton only generated two hits, from Mraz and Robinson, in the fourth inning. They also walked four times and struck out 12 times against the Lady Panthers’ ace, who was a Florida State commit. Ridge Point scratched out an unearned run in the fourth inning on a single and two errors. It was all that they needed to bump Belton into the Ninth Place bracket against Alvin, who was tied with Belton as the preseason No. 10 team in Class 6A.
Alvin 3 Belton 1, International Tie Breaker (ITB)
Belton played its first ITB game since 2013 when they went to an extra inning against a team that they are deadlocked with in the rankings of Class 6A, both coming into the game 2-1 on the season.
Alvin squeezed out the game’s first run in the third inning on three singles and a walk. Drake singled in the bottom of the sixth, advanced to second on a wild pitch, was moved to third on a sacrifice bunt from Mraz and scored on Robinson’s sacrifice fly to right field.
The Yellowjackets pushed two runs across in the extra frame. The Lady Tigers, with Edwards placed at second base by way of the ITB rule (the last batter of the previous inning placed at second with no one out), got a walk from Madison Ward and a bunt by Lusby to load the bases. But Belton ended the game with two strikeouts and a fly out to left field.
Holman picked up the hard-luck loss in the circle, despite striking out nine batters and walking two.
The last ITB game Belton had played in was in 2013, when they took on West at the Centex Hit-And-Run Tournament at Lady Tiger Field.
The loss put them on the left side of the bracket, taking on a familiar friendly in Elgin on Saturday morning.
Belton 9 Elgin 5 (ITB)
The scene shifted from College Station to Bryan’s Stephen C. Beachy Central Park Complex. A late-inning rally by the Lady Tigers pushed the game with Elgin into an extra frame and Belton pushed the afterburners for four runs to defeat the Wildcats 9-5.
The field conditions in the circle were deplorable for both starting pitchers, with a hole in front of the pitching rubber that you could drop a softball in and not see it from the dugout or the stands. Elgin’s offense benefitted from the struggles and took an early 2-0 lead in the first. Edwards homered to left to put Belton on the board in the bottom of the frame. Elgin scored three runs in the second and the Lady Tigers could not answer, keeping the score at 5-1.
Belton head coach Matt Blackburn decided to spell Holman from the circle for safety’s sake for the rest of the contest in favor of Ward. Elgin never adjusted to the Ward knuckleball, outside of a bases-loaded situation in the fifth inning.
The change in the circle allowed the Lady Tigers to regroup offensively. Ward singled, Moore singled her to third and she scored on Drake’s single in the fourth inning to bring Belton back to within three at 5-2.
Belton was on the ropes with no one on and two outs in the fifth inning and time expired. Robinson and Edwards singled, bringing up Lusby. After taking the first pitch, Lusby lined a screamer over the left field wall to tie the game at 5-5. Elgin could not score and it forced an extra inning via ITB.
Ward placed at second, being the last batter of the previous inning. Moore sacrificed Ward to third base. Drake’s bunt single scored Ward to give Belton a 6-5 lead. Kaitlyn Jones, just 15 hours removed from her final career basketball game, singled and Mraz was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Holman singled home Drake and Robinson singled home Jones and Mraz to give Belton a 9-5 lead.
Ward retired the final the three batters to give the Lady Tigers the improbable come-from-behind win.
The final game of the tournament for the Lady Tigers was against Friendswood.
Belton 9 Friendswood 4
The Lady Tigers rode the momentum of their win against Elgin to finish out the tournament strong against Friendswood.
They came out swinging the bats and didn’t stop until the end of the game, with Belton getting a 9-4 to close out the Bryan College Station Tournament with a 4-2. Belton when 2-2 against ranked teams in the tournament.
Drake, Jones and Mraz reached to lead off the ball game. Edwards sacrifice fly scored Drake, Jones scored on a wild pitch and Robinson singled in Mraz gave Belton a 3-0 lead.
Moore’s triple generated a run in the top of the second inning, with Drake driving her home to add to the Belton lead, 4-0.
Dodging a second and third situation in the bottom of the second inning, Belton added two more runs in the third inning without a hit. Edwards walked, Robinson was hit by a pitch, Lusby reached on an error to load the bases, Ward reached on an error to score Edwards and Robinson scored on a passed ball to make the score 6-0.
Friendswood scored three runs in the third inning and one in the fourth to close the gap to two runs, 6-4.
Belton put the game away in the fifth inning with three runs. Drake singled in Lusby and Ward, while Moore scored on a passed ball.
Ward retired six of the final eight batters to finish the ball game and pick up her second win on the day. Ward is the only Lady Tiger pitcher to pick up a win other than Holman since the start of the 2014 season.