By Tony Adams, Sports Editor
When Meredith Lusby made the varsity Belton Lady Tigers Softball team, she was a freshman in 2014. She was taking over for Lady Tiger standouts Alex Wilson and Meredith Langford.
The expectations were high and she raised the bar, as she was one of the best shortstops in District 8-5A. She hit .275 in 2014 with a series-clinching home run at Midlothian and had 10 runs batted in, scoring 18 runs, collecting 14 hits, four doubles and 14 walks.
She struggled with the bat as a sophomore, but exponentially improved her defense in 2015. She started improving her offense throughout the second half of District 12-6A. She didn’t have an at-bat in the 2015 playoffs until the last game (two walks), but she played excellent defense, featuring a dynamite defensive series in the Regional Semifinals against The Woodlands. She committed just three errors in 26 games, down from 10 errors in 26 games in 2014.
“In 2015, she was struggling and actually came to me, asking me to give someone else a chance to hit and help out on defense,” Belton head coach Matt Blackburn said. “To me, that showed leadership and her contribution to the team.”
What she gave to the team in defense in the playoffs really steadied the team.
“She showed us a ton in the field and at bat that last game,” Blackburn said. “She ended up on base twice, which was great for not seeing a pitch in a month.”
Her biggest adjustment in the off-season was learning how to slap from the left side, adding to her offensive power on the right side.
“I find myself thinking a bit more from the left side and it has made me more relaxed from the right side,” Lusby said. “Overall, the adjustment has helped me round into a better hitter.”
“Her learning to slap left-handed, with her speed, is an asset to our offense,” Blackburn said. “It’s dangerous for any team to come up against.”
She had a great tournament at the Friends of Round Rock Softball Preseason Tournament in January, getting several key hits and walks, helping Belton to a third-place finish overall and was instrumental in the season opening tournament in the Bryan-College Station Tournament, blasting a three-run home run that forced an extra-inning against Elgin.
That win against Elgin started the Lady Tigers on a school-record 15-game winning streak. Lusby has had a steady part in the process.
And to leave her out of the foundation of the 2016 process is a mistake (my profound apologies for leaving her out of my March 10 feature “Foundation laid for Belton Softball long playoff run”).
Her 2016 stats may not jump out at you, but her consistency does the talking on the field. She is hitting .293 with one home run and seven RBIs, scoring 11 runs and collecting 12 hits. She leads the team in walks with nine and has reached by way of defensive errors three times. She has an on-base percentage of .420 and is hitting .300 (6-of-20) with runners in scoring position. She does have five errors this season in 36 chances, but all five errors were 50-50 balls that could have been easily scored hits.
In 2014, she teamed with Makayla Hernandez and Alyson Bishoff as a double play combination. In 2015, she teamed with Kaitlyn Jones, Skylar Stewart and Bethany Edwards (who rotated at first base) for the Lady Tigers combo. In 2016, freshmen Avery Drake and Caleigh Robinson have teamed up with Lusby for the combination, as Jones moved from second base to third base. She had a key defensive put out against Canyon Randall, as part of a 9-5-6 (Ryleigh Jarvis-to-Jones-to-Lusby) double play to end the game and key Belton’s a four-game shutout streak in tact at that time.
“When I was a freshman, I was quiet and listened to watch the upper classmen were saying,” Lusby said. “As a sophomore, I contributed a little bit, but still listened. As a junior, I feel I still lead by example and let my play on the field speak for me.”
Since the end of the Bryan-College Station Tournament, Belton is 15-0 and has held their opposition to just six runs. The streak includes seven wins against ranked opponents. The Lady Tigers are ranked No. 6 in Class 6A with a 17-2 record after to Tuesday night’s game against Killeen.
“Her defense has spoken volumes during the season and it is comforting to know she just gets better and better,” Blackburn said.
Walking softly and carrying a steady ball, soft hands, a solid glove and lethal arm: that is Meredith Lusby personified.
“As much as she has matured and grown, there are not many four-year starters out there and she has been one of the keys to this program,” Blackburn said. “It’s interesting to see how the program has morphed. It’s business-like: everyone has a job to do and state is the goal.”
Next season she will be a four-year starter, which there is only one in the Belton program at the moment: pitcher Sidney Holman.
“I know my time is coming up as a senior, but I have a lot of softball to play before that time comes,” Lusby said. “We have a great team here, having fun playing and working as team acheive goals everyday.”