By Tony Adams,
The first of Belton head coach Matt Blackburn and the Belton Lady Tigers softball team’s goals was to go through the Bryan-College Station Tournament with no more than two losses.
Belton went 4-2 in the tournament, starting with winning their first three games to qualify for the tournament quarterfinals, fell to tournament runner-up Conroe Oak Ridge, defeated Kingwood Park and fell late to Fort Bend Ridge Point to place sixth in a tournament field of 64.
The first game of the tournament was against Friendswood at Bryan Rudder High School, coached by first-year head coach and former two-time US Olympic Softball gold-medalist Crista Williams. Meredith Lusby doubled and scored on Skylar Stewart’s flare to right field. Stewart advanced to third base as her shot skidded past the glove of the right fielder. Bethany Edwards’ infield single scored Stewart to give Belton a 2-0 lead right out of the gate in the first inning.
In the realms of baseball and softball, a two-out walk is one of the more harmful things a defense can have. Bekah Alcozer worked out a walk, Stewart got on base on an error and Edwards reached on an error by the centerfielder, scoring Alcozer and Stewart to make the score 4-0.
Aside from a run by Friendswood that was scratched out on a walk, hit batter and sacrifice bunt, Sidney Holman was stunning the Lady Mustangs in the circle. After a walk in the fourth, she struck out the next three hitters and repeated the task in the seventh as part of her 11-strikeout performance.
Belton scored three more times in the fifth inning, as Destinye Moore and Alcozer singles, Edwards singled home Moore, Alcozer scored on a wild pitch and Brittany Bass grounded out to score Edwards.
The Lady Tigers won 7-1 over Friendswood to advance to the second round against Montgomery at Veterans Park in College Station.
Montgomery hit a home run to take a 1-0 in the top of the first. Belton responded on the scoreboard with a Moore walk and Alcozer smashed a 250-foot shot over the left field wall for a two-run homer.
Belton extended the lead to 5-1, when Kaitlyn Jones singled, Bass walked, Sydney Andrews’ sacrificed, a wild pitch and Moore RBI single, generating three runs.
The Lady Tigers posted five more runs in the fourth inning, with Madison Winkler, Lusby, Alcozer, Stewart and Edwards all scored to give Belton a 10-1. The final score was 10-4.
Holman was steady in the circle again, striking out nine in just 89 pitches, helping the Lady Tigers advance to the third round against Rockwall Heath back at Rudder on Friday morning.
Once again, Belton hit the scoreboard in the first inning. Lusby worked a 10-pitch walk, Alcozer doubled home Lusby, Stewart doubled home Alcozer, Edwards singled home Stewart and Kaitlyn Jones squeeze bunted home Edwards to give Belton a 4-0 first-inning lead. The Lady Tigers added a run in the fourth to stretch the lead to five and won 5-0.
Holman was the story of the game for the Lady Tigers, retiring the first 12 batters she faced before an error derailed the perfect game attempt. She tossed 6 2/3 innings of no-hit ball before a shot up the middle went off the pitching rubber was ruled a single. She struck out 11 Lady Hawks and walked none.
The win put Belton in the quarterfinal round against Conroe Oak Ridge. Holman fanned the first three Lady War Eagles. Lusby was hit by a pitch and advanced to third on an Alcozer walk and Stewart fielder’s choice. She ended stranded at third.
Oak Ridge pieced two singles and a double together to take a 1-0 lead in the second. The Lady Tigers couldn’t take advantage of a Winkler double in the bottom of inning. The Lady War Hawks scratched out a run on an error in the third inning to take a 2-0 lead.
Belton had runners on in the third and fourth inning, but were stranded, opening the door for the turning point of the game in the top of the fifth inning. Three uncharacteristic, consecutive Belton errors loaded the bases and Amber Serrett tripled to the right-centerfield gap, clearing the bases to make the score 5-0. Serrett scored on Carter Spexarth’s ground out to take a 6-0 lead.
Stewart doubled to lead off in the bottom of the sixth and scored on a punch-bunt double in the hole at shortstop by Jones to make the score 6-1.
The Lady Tigers scratched out a run in the bottom of the seventh inning, as Bass walked and advanced to third on two wild pitches. Lusby singled home Bass to make the score 6-2. But the margin was too much to cover late.
Holman struck out nine batters and walked one in the loss.
The loss dropped the Lady Tigers into the fifth-place bracket, starting Saturday morning at Veterans Park against Kingwood Park. In character for the tournament, Belton jumped on the scoreboard in the first inning. Destinye Moore had an RBI groundout and Winkler’s two-run single gave the Lady Tigers a 3-0 lead before Holman hit the circle.
Edwards’ two-single scored Jones and Lusby to increase the score to 5-0. The Lady Panthers scored two runs in the second to make the score 5-2. Edwards walked, advanced to second on a wild pitch, stole third and scored on a wild pitch in the fifth inning to make the score 6-2.
Kingwood Park scored two runs on two walked, a wild pitch and an error in the fifth inning to make the score 6-4. Time expired following the Lady Panthers following the bottom of the sixth.
Holman struck out seven batters and walked four, while scattering seven hits.
Belton moved into the fifth-place game against Fort Bend Ridge Point Saturday afternoon at Rudder. The game had the intensity of a state playoff softball game, with great pitching in the first three innings.
The Lady Tigers had chances in the first two innings to score, as Jones walked and stole second base in the first inning and Ryleigh Jarvis and Winkler each singled in the second. All three were stranded.
Ridge Point manufactured a run in the bottom of the third inning, scoring on a walk and a single. The Lady Tigers turned magnificent double play in the inning, as Jones fielded a grounder, tagged first and fired a throw home to Edwards to cut down a runner trying to score to keep the score 1-0.
Belton evened the score in the fourth, as Edwards tripled into the right field corner and scored on Moore’s single.
The Lady Panthers scored three unearned runs in the fifth inning, on two walks, an error, a fielder’s choice and a single, making the score 4-1. Belton could not answer in the fifth inning. Baylee Leifester came in to get some in-circle work, giving Holman a break after a solid tournament on the slab. Time ran out during Ridge Point’s sixth inning and the Lady Tigers finished in sixth place.
“We did our best hitting on the first day,” Blackburn said. “We probably should have one the last game, but it came down to defense and mental mistakes. It won’t be like this in the playoffs, as the most games you may get is two in one night. We take things from this. I saw some kids step up offensively. But next week is a new week and we have to have a good showing there. Our goal is to go 5-0 and it will be difficult. But if we can play like we are capable of playing, we can do it.”
Blackburn was extremely proud of Holman, as she looked in mid-season form. She turned many heads, of players, coaches and fans alike.
“Her strikeouts were up and her walks were down,” Blackburn said. “She’s putting the ball on the spot well and she’s pitching with a lot of confidence. She’s an entirely different pitcher from last year. We have to clean some things up on defense and score more runs to make her even more confident. In my opinion, the best pitcher in the tournament.”
Round Rock is next on the tournament slate for Belton this week, with pool play on Thursday and Friday.