By Tony Adams
It has been seven months since the Belton Lady Tigers ended the regular season as Class 6A’s No. 1 ranked team, went four rounds into the playoffs and graduated one of most esteemed classes in Belton Softball program history.
Now the remaining Belton players have convened to prepare for the Friends of the Round Rock Softball Tournament, one of the state’s premier pre-UIL tournaments.
The 2017 installment of the tournament will be at Old Settlers Park Hall of Fame Complex (3300 Palm Valley Rd) in Round Rock on January 7-8.
Returning players Meredith Lusby, Avery Drake, Bethany Edwards, Ryleigh Jarvis, Madison Ward, Taylor Tubbs, Madison Cotton and Caleigh Robinson are expected to be the foundation of the team in the 2017 season and will be coached by Seth Alcozer and assisted by Bekah Alcozer at the tournament again this season.
The tournament is roughly two weeks out, but Belton is hunting success following the graduation of All-American pitcher Sidney Holman, and solid players in All-Staters Kaitlyn Jones, Destynie Moore and Kendall Mraz.
With Tubbs and Cotton, it gives Belton good returning depth at pitcher. Robinson, Drake, Lusby and Ward provide solid position players in the infield.
In the December workouts, Edwards has been working behind the plate and at first base. Robinson has also been working at first base and Meredith Lusby has been working out at shortstop. Junior Mackenzie Bartlett and freshman Madison Bartlett, a pair of sisters from North Carolina, moved into Belton prior to the school year and have been working out at second and third base. It allows Alcozer to work Drake out in centerfield and have three to five candidates at second base and three solid candidates at third base.
Drake, with a school-record 46 runs scored, 61 hits and 39 stolen bases in 2016, has plenty enough speed to cover the gaps in left-center and right-center and has the arm-strength to make a solid throw from the wall to circle and is still scratching the surface of her talent.
Ward has been working out in left field and has plenty of zip in her arm to cut down a runner who wants to test her at second base.
Jarvis is continuing to do good work in right field and have plenty of competitive company.
2016 junior varsity players and incoming 2017 players will play a huge factor in this tournament. The leadership of the senior Lusby and the other seven returners will be an integral part of the tournament as well.
Izzy Gutierrez, who had several home runs on the junior varsity squad in 2016, has been working out at first base and has shown pop in the bat early on in workouts, as well as Karsyn Baird. Marissa Lusby has gotten some action at second base and in the outfield.
Freshmen Hannah Kelley (pitcher), Payton Cook (catcher), Summer Stewart (infield/outfield), Madison Parker (infield)and Miranda Davila (infield/outfield) have been getting hard looks by the coaching staff.
Belton head coach Matt Blackburn will have a watchful eye on the tournament. By UIL rules, the head coaches can attend the tournament, but cannot coach. Alcozer has fully earned Blackburn’s trust and is a stickler when it comes to conditioning. He is a former Tiger baseball player and has played college baseball as well.
At last Friday’s workout, former Lady Tiger and UMHB shortstop/second baseman Meredith Langford was on hand to assist in the workouts. On Saturday, former Tiger and Rice Owl baseball great Shane Hoelscher was on hand to provide baserunning pointers and tips on the mental approach to hitting. Hoelscher, a 17th round pick of the Colorado Rockies in 2014, completed his first full year at the Rockies High-A affiliate in Modesto, Cali. He hit .274 with 11 home runs, 62 runs batted in and had an on-base percentage of .329 as a second baseman, third baseman and designated hitter.
The pool play assignments were released prior to this week’s paper going to press. Belton will play Houston Bellaire at 8 a.m. on January 7 at Hall of Fame Complex Field 5. They will play Burleson Centennial at 10:20 a.m. at the Gold Glove Complex Field 18. The first bracket game will be against Hutto at 12:30 p.m. at Hall of Fame Field 4. The tournament is double-elimination.