By Tony Adams, Sports Editor
The best Belton Lady Tigers’ basketball season in 14 years came to a close at Glen Rose High School’s Tiger Arena Friday night, as the upstart Lady Tigers ran into a strong team in District 10-6A Champion Richardson.
Arleighshya McElroy had 34 points, 25 in the second half, and Dorian Branch added 18, as the Lady Eagles continued on in their quest for a state championship with a 68-50 win over the Lady Tigers.
Belton’s season ended with a 23-12 mark.
Richardson was determined to put Belton away early, as McElroy scored seven of the Lady Eagles nine points, jumping out to a 9-0 with 4:10 to play in the first quarter. Emily Del Real scored the first two points for the Lady Tigers on free throws with 3:27 to go in the quarter. Noelle Yancy answered with a field goal off of a drive into the lane that was answered back by a field goal and two free throws from Elicia Jackson. Belton trailed 11-6 at the first quarter.
Cammie Moore got Belton the closest they had been all game with a three-pointer 27 seconds into the second quarter at 11-9. Richardson answered with a 9-2 run in 5:47 to give them a nine-point lead, 20-11. Three-pointers by Moore and Hannah Martin sandwiched a three-point play by Dorian Branch, to narrow the Belton deficit at the halftime branch to six, 23-17.
Del Real’s three-pointer 26 seconds into the third quarter put the Lady Tigers to within three points, 23-20. But McElroy, the Texas A&M signee, hit nine of Richardson’s 11 points in an 11-2 run, spanning 2:44 to pull the Lady Eagles in front by 12, 34-22.
Kaitlyn Jones hit a pair of three-pointers, Keilee Burke added a bucket and Natasha Blizzard contributed a jumper in an 10-5 spurt to get the Lady Tigers back to within seven, 39-32. The teams traded baskets and Belton found themselves within striking distance again, trailing 44-36 at the end of the third quarter.
Moore’s drive into the paint rolled in a minute into the fourth quarter, pulling the Lady Tigers to within two scores, 44-38. McElroy, Branch, Brianna Lester combined for a 12-3 run, with Moore getting Belton’s only points, to extend the lead to 16, 57-41, with 3:50 to play.
Blair Gilbert hit a field goal that was answered by Skye Dugan, Moore and Jackson combined for the final seven points of the Tigers’ night, but couldn’t get the Lady Tigers any closer and drawing the curtains on Belton’s amazing season.
The game marked just the second time this season that Belton never had a tie or lead in a game, with their road game at Killeen marking that lone feat.
Belton head coach Brenda Gomez was impressed with McElroy, but recognized that with more field goal conversions in the first half (only four field goals, three on three-pointers), the Lady Tigers would have stayed closer.
“She is definitely a college player,” Gomez said. “I just wish we would have made some more shots to put more pressure on them.”
Gomez felt the Lady Tigers played well, but it was hard to stop McElroy.
“I feel like we could have played better, but I don’t think we’ve played against anybody like that,” Gomez said. “We just couldn’t get a stop when we did hit the shots.”
Moore scored 14 points and Jackson scored 10 in the effort for the Lady Tigers.
Making their first postseason appearance in 12 years, the Lady Tigers believe this playoff run marked a winning-culture turnaround for the program.
“This sets a precedent,” Gomez said. “This puts expectations on the kids to perform at the best of their ability. This was a great reward and a fun ride.”
The end of the game also marked the end of the Belton careers of Emily Del Real, Blair Gilbert, Kaitlyn Jones and Tina Jones. Kaitlyn Jones, a two-time Texas Sports Writer’s Association All-State softball player, will rejoin Belton Lady Tigers Softball this week.