By Tony Adams, Sports Editor
The Belton Lady Tigers soccer team went into Friday night’s matchup with the Copperas Cove Lady Dawgs looking to improve their standings in the early District 12-6A race.
Cove scored 95 seconds into the tilt, but the Lady Tigers didn’t sway from their game plan. Three tallies in the middle of the first half helped Belton to a 6-1 final.
The Lady Tigers, 5-5-2 overall and 2-0 District 12-6A, got another solid defensive game from the backliners and impressive offensive showing from the midfielders and forwards.
Tiarra Hodges had markers in each half for the Lady Tigers and single goals from Emma Stinson, Mattie Krenek, Erika Anderson and Lexi Mack.
After a point blank stop by the Cove goal keeper, the Lady Dawgs picked up a goal from Allie McBride at the 1:35 mark after a Lady Tigers’ defender slipped and fell on the play. Belton played like a team possessed to get the game tied.
“We recomposed ourselves and calmed down,” Hodges said. “We settled the ball down and worked the ball down the field.”
“We talk a lot about fighting back and the morale and being focused,” Belton head coach Wendy Knight said. “We’ve had moments throughout the season where we’ve had some down moments and not able to compose for the full 80 minutes. That is our goal right now. That goal fueled our team and it showed.”
Hodges was turned away on several tries before she set up Stinson for the equalizer with 23:04 left in the half.
Belton had two straight breakaway charges that were nullified on offside calls before Hodges flew past the defense up the center of the field and parked the ball in the middle of the net to give the Lady Tigers a 2-1 with 20:32 to go in the half.
Caroline Stegall and Alison Navarro worked magic to get Hodges her second goal. Stegall blocked a Cove pass that caromed to Navarro, who worked the ball downfield and centered a pass to Hodges for her second goal of the game to put Belton up 3-1 with 15:49 remaining in the half.
Cove neutralized 1-on-1 tries from Hodges and Krenek over the next four minutes. Good defense from Navarro, Anderson, Stegall and Haylie Wylie held the Lady Dawgs outside 30 yards of the goal. Belton picked up a corner kick with under two minutes to play and took advantage of the opportunity. Stegall blasted the corner kick to the far post, where Krenek deposited the ball smartly into the twine to make the score 4-1 with 1:32 left in the half. Krenek nearly scored a minute later when a shot went six inches over the crossbar.
Belton continued the offensive pressure in the second half with a brisk wind at their backs. Hodges, Stegall, Navarro, Stinson, Rachel Ramm and Yuliana Cruz had quality chances from inside 25 yards. With 24:02 to play, Cruz took a corner kick and bent the shot into the box, meeting the on-charging Anderson. She finished the play with a deft boot into the net to extend Belton’s lead to four goals, 5-1.
After a solid Stinson shot and Hodges blistering shot off the right upright of the football goal post, Belton was awarded a corner kick. Cassandra Grimaldo placed the kick perfectly onto the toe of Mack and she planted it into the net to give Belton a 6-1 advantage with 14:28 to play.
The Lady Tigers had seven more chances inside the final 12 minutes, but were off by mere inches on their scoring chances outside the goal.
Gracie Green faced very little traffic beyond the first two minutes, but helped out on the backline for another win in next.
“Since Gracie is so young, we step up to help her out on defense,” Hodges said. “When we clear the ball out for her, it makes her more comfortable back there. It also calms us down and helps get the ball out to our forwards.”
Hodges worked extremely hard for a potential third goal and had the Lady Dawgs hopping on defense. But as hard as she tried, the third goal was not in the cards for her Friday night.
“It was so frustrating,” said Hodges, laughing. “I just kept trying and trying. I was feeding my teammates and then calling them for the ball back and it just wasn’t going in. It’s frustrating, but there is always next time.”
The early goal by Cove also underlined another point that Knight made to her team about allowing district goals. In the previous game, Belton allowed a late goal to Killeen Shoemaker. Counting the tally against them by Cove, it is the first two goals against the Lady Tigers that were not scored by Waco Midway in Knight’s tenure at Belton.
“We talked about that point this week,” Knight said. “The fact that we gave up a goal to Shoemaker and then the early goal against Cove, that made the girls mad and lit a fire underneath them. It stressed their mental toughness and made the girls want to put the ball in the net even more.”
Hodges nets two more in 4-0 shutout at Killeen
Tiarra Hodges had a hand in all four Belton goals Tuesday night in Killeen, as the Lady Tigers ran their overall record to 7-4-2 and District 12-6A to 3-0 with a 4-0 shutout of the Lady Roos.
Gracie Green picked up her first district clean sheet, making one save and getting great defense in front of her.
Hodges had two goals and assisted on tallies by Emma Stinson and Mattie Krenek.
The Lady Tigers, who have a bye night this Friday, will return to action at Tiger Field against Ellison Tuesday night.
“We possessed really well,” Belton head coach Wendy Knight said. “Anytime you can put the ball in the net is good, and we are really mastering our possession.”