By Tony Adams, Sports Editor
In 2015, the Belton High School softball team played in 16th Annual Round Rock Invitational Softball Tournament and took their lumps on the opening day. They went 1-1 in pool play and proceeded to go 1-2 in bracket play, leaving the tournament late Saturday night.
This season, Belton is not taking this tournament lightly. Especially in light of a four-round deep playoff foray in the late spring of 2015.
Seth Alcozer, Belton’s coach in last year’s tournament, remembered last year’s Round Rock Tournament and the lessons he learned from coaching the team in last year’s tournament. He has the team better prepared for the 2016 entrance into the tournament.
“The practices are going very well this year,” Alcozer said. “As opposed to last year, we were somewhat structured. This year we are very structured and the girls have responded extremely well. The team has worked extremely hard and we work out twice a week. This team is better fundamentally, top to bottom, and has more depth. This team has potential and we’ll get a good chance to see them this weekend.”
“We got a lot of work in over the Christmas break,” Belton pitcher Sidney Holman said. “We are giving ourselves the chances to improve on our skills and it has really helped us.”
“The workouts have been great this year and have helped out a lot,” Belton centerfielder Destynie Moore said. “Situationally, we are better prepared on what we could see and should see. Obviously, the running and conditioning exercises have been better. They are more disciplined. So we will be in better shape than at last year’s tournament.”
There are five incoming freshmen that are participating in this tournament, with Madison Cotton, Madison Ward and Taylor Tubbs being three pitchers that can start, relieve or close a ballgame. It is a welcomed change that could help out Belton on their staff this season.
“With the incoming freshmen, I was able to work with Avery (Drake) this summer on strength and conditioning,” Alcozer said. “I’ve gotten to know Madison Ward because of knowing the Ward family and Tubbs, (Kayleigh) Robinson and Cotton are working with me for the first time and I have been pleasantly surprised. Obviously, they are raw with not being around me or my intensity. This is a really good freshman class and with three of them (Tubbs, Ward and Cotton) being pitchers, it can help spell Sidney (Holman) some innings. They can save her for the stretch run. But they are good players right now and provide good depth right now. Avery is a pencil-in at second base right now, Tubbs is depth at third base, Robinson is depth at first base. Cotton and Tubbs are depth at pitching. They have all blended into the team and have really good work ethic.”
“It’s great to know that I will have the pitching help, not only for them to help me, but I can help them as well,” Holman said.
“The freshmen have been really good this year and understand their roles,” Moore said. “They didn’t know what to expect out of this, but really caught on and learned well.”
The senior leadership is very deep on the team. Naturally, Holman is the leader in the circle. Destynie Moore is a leader by example in the outfield, Sydney Andrews has solid work ethic, Baylee Leifester has great heart and great leadership and Kendall Mraz and Cameron Jackson bring on-field leadership. Meredith Lusby also brings a lot of leadership, being a third-year player in the system.
“Sidney has been through two strength and conditioning summers with me and most of these have had two fall seasons with me,” Alcozer explained. “I’m really glad Sidney’s been here because she understands what I am trying to get across to the girls and because as a player and a coach that is not that far removed from the game, she gets that. I may not have gotten to do as much as I have wanted to and the girls may not understand my intensity, Sidney is a great middle-man for me. Destynie has turned into a great middle-man for me as well. Bekah (Alcozer) is here too and is the calm one. She understands my personality and with going through the fall down at Texas, she knows what I expect and conveys it to the younger players. Even the seniors now what I expect and that has been a real difference-maker.”
“I feel like the practices are a lot more structured than before last year’s tournament,” Holman said. “Seth has done a great job preparing us, by teaching us new skills and refining the skills that we have. He’s very smart about the game and teaches us the situations that we will see during the game. He’s not only about the physical stuff, but the mental stuff as well.”
“I feel that I lead more my actions than I do vocally,” Moore said.
The difference in the preparation in 2015 and 2016 has been the presence of college athletes in the practice sessions. During some practice sessions for the 2016 tournament, Belton has seen different variables, like live pitching from former Temple TemCat/current Temple Lady Leopard pitcher Lexi Smith, former Gatesville catching standout/incoming Lady Leopard Kenzie Winkler and, of course, four-year Lady Tiger standout Bekah Alcozer.
“Bekah, with being at the University of Texas right now, understands the work involved to be good,” Alcozer said. “With Lexi, I am so appreciative of her and I tell her that all of the time. I don’t think I prepared the girls that well last year, but giving the girls a different look with Lexi. With her going to the SEC (Texas A&M), a powerhouse conference, she did a lot for us and I know she’ll be great there. Kenzie Winkler coming out here and working with the girls, she’s going to TC next year and helped us out a lot. The girls saw high-level competition and they know they will see things on a higher level.”
Belton will see Royce City and Austin Westlake in the first pool games, that will be at 9:10 a.m. and 10:20 a.m. respectively Saturday morning at Old Settler’s Park Hall of Fame Field 2. Bracket play will start at 12 p.m. against Bowie Black. If the team wins, they play at Silver Slugger Field 9 at 3 p.m. If they lose, they will play back at Hall of Fame Field 2 and the arduous task of climbing through bracket play will begin, with a team losing in the first round needing to win 10 games in a row to win the championship.
“With Royce City being near Dallas, they always play a tough schedule and Austin Westlake is always competitive,” Alcozer said. “I don’t much about Bowie, but I know that our girls will compete.”
“I feel that this year’s team mindset for this tournament is better than last year’s,” Moore said. “We went into last year’s tournament just to play in the tournament. We’re going into this year’s tournament with the mindset that we want to win this tournament.”