By Tony Adams
The Highland Park Scotland Yard Classic has always been a challenge for the Belton Tigers Baseball team. It has presented deep competition pools and loads of potential college (and in some cases Major League Baseball) talent.
Mother Nature reared its backside, with rain mid-week which shifted games throughout the Dallas-area and sent the Tigers from a schedule that featured Class 6A No. 1 Coppell at Cowboys Field and four games at Highland Park’s Scotland Yard over a two-day stretch to a schedule that pitted the Tigers against Class 5A No. 13 Lucas Lovejoy (8-3-1) on Thursday Dallas John Paul II’s Cardinal Field, games against Coppell (11-0) and Highland Park (11-5) at Scotland Yard on Friday and Class 5A No. 1 Prosper (8-2) and Class 6A No. 12 Dallas Jesuit (12-4-2) at the Eagles’ Nest in Prosper.
Belton dropped decisions to Lovejoy 10-3, Coppell 10-2, Highland Park 5-4 and Dallas Jesuit 2-0, but did manage to upset Prosper 8-2.
That gave the Tigers the upset of two top tier teams, as Belton upset Round Rock 11-8 on the opening day of the season when the Dragons opened up play as the preseason No. 2 team in Class 6A.
The Tigers go into District 12-6A play with an 8-8 record; significantly better than the 2-7 record they left the Scotland Yard Tournament with in 2015. From the end of that tournament to the second game of the Class 6A Area round, the Tigers reeled off 19 consecutive wins.
Lovejoy jumped on the Tigers for six runs in first inning, forcing a pitching change to Xavier Haines with two outs in the bottom of the first. Three Tiger errors plated two more Leopard runs in the second inning and another error pushed another Lovejoy run across in the third to put the team up 9-0 after three innings.
Belton got onto the scoreboard in the fourth inning as Tyler Kastner singled and advanced to third on a bizarre airmailed throw down by the Lovejoy catcher down to first base following a strikeout. Trent Stafford doubled into the left field corner to score Kastner.
Andrew Keefer’s single scored Nick Parker to give Lovejoy a 10-1 lead after four innings and Belton countered with a two-run double by Reese Hohhertz in the sixth, scoring Stafford and Ethan Gilmore.
The Tigers picked up nine hits and left six runners on, but committed four errors that let in a litany of unearned runs. Remington Lutz took the hard-luck loss.
Belton played Coppell tough Friday at Highland Park, but rain affected play at the start of the game. A pair of walks and a sacrifice bunt led to wild pitch, scoring Cody Masters and Austin Gross’ RBI ground out scored Trey Becerra to put the Cowboys up quickly, 2-0.
Breck Potvin reached base on an error by starting pitcher Chris Burdine. He was sacrificed to second by Kastner, but was stranded there on two solid defensive plays by Jacob Nesbit.
Stafford picked up two strikeouts in the second inning, as the rain let up.
Coppell scored a pair of runs in third inning, as a single by Masters, an errant pick off throw, a walk to Nesbit, a single by Ray Gathier and an outfield error plated two runs.
The Cowboys picked up two more runs in the fourth, as two walks, a double and an error gave Coppell a 6-0 lead.
The Tigers broke onto the scoreboard in the fourth inning, as Hobey Hiland was hit by a pitch on a 1-0 count and Collin Mask ripped a high fastball half-way up the wall of the Highland Park Swim Center, located beyond the left field wall, for a two-run homer.
Coppell picked up four more runs in the top of the fifth inning, highlighted by a two-run shot by Cole Solomon. That made the score 10-2.
The Tigers picked up just one hit in the game, Mask’s two-run homer, and left four runners on base.
Belton regrouped to take on Highland Park as the visiting team. The Tigers jumped on Clayton Rejebian early, as Kastner walked and advanced to second, Hiland singled in Kastner, Mask walked and Nathan Vail both walked and Trey Bell walked to score Hiland to make the score 2-0 before the Scots’ first at-bat.
Kyle Burnett reached base and advanced to second on an error and Rejebian doubles home Burnett to split the deficit in half, 2-1, at the end of the first inning.
Cameron Whitman was electric on the mound for the Tigers, as he pitched his way out of a jam in the second inning, struck out the side in the third inning and pitched his way out of a jam in the fourth inning.
The Tigers left a runner on in the second inning. In the third inning, Mask doubled to right field and Vail was hit by a 3-1 pitch, spelling the end of Rejebian’s stay on the mound, as Scots’ head coach Travis Yoder lifted him for Bobby Hetner. He allowed a walk to load the bases, but struck out two batters and induced a foul out to first baseman Jack Sides to get Highland Park out of the jam.
Belton scored two important runs in the seventh inning. Mask singled and Vail walked to bring up Aaron Krueger with no outs. Krueger dropped a sacrifice bunt down and the Scots’ catcher overthrew first base, as Mask and Vail scored and Krueger advanced to third to up the Tigers advantage to 4-1.
Lutz, who relieved Whitman in the bottom of the fifth inning, had allowed just a single and a walk before coming into the bottom of the seventh inning. A walk and a single set up a double play opportunity. But a sharp ground ball skidded off the glove of Miguel Quinones, who had made two amazing plays at deep shortstop earlier in the game, and into right center field, sending Bell and Kastner scrambling for the ball, as two runs scored and cutting the Belton advantage to 4-3. The Scots picked up a single to tie the ballgame and got a walk-off single from Sides to send the Tigers back to the hotel with a 5-4 loss.
After a night of well-deserved rest, the Tigers traveled to Prosper to take on the defending 2015 Class 5A Champion Prosper Eagles.
Once again, Belton jumped on pitching early. Potvin walked on four pitches to start the ball game and Kastner busted a 1-2 pitch over the Eagles Nest Green Monster wall in left field for a 2-0 lead.
The Tigers were on the scoreboard again in the third inning, as Potvin singled home Brandon Rudy, extending Belton’s lead to three, 3-0.
Shane Mejia pitched solid against the Eagles, allowing a couple of runners on in the first couple of innings, but leading his defense handle the load.
Belton scored in the fourth inning, as Lutz and Rudy singled and Logan Earl walked to load the bases. Potvin grounded into a double play, but Lutz scored to make the score 4-0.
Prosper cut the lead in half with a pair of runs in the fourth inning. Zach Wilson has hit by a pitch, Cade McBride singled and Austin Garcia’s two-run single made the score 4-2.
Belton tacked on four more insurance runs in the fifth inning. Mask singled and was run for by Andrew Kendall. Haines singled, as Lutz and Rudy both walked, forcing home Kendall. Working on a seven-pitch at-bat, Earl placed a perfect ball up the middle for a single, scoring Haines and Lutz. Kastner singled in Rudy to give the Tigers a six-run edge, 8-2.
Tanner Frick, seeing his first action of the season, relieved Mejia. He struck out two batters to wind up the ballgame, preserving the upset over Prosper.
The final game of the tournament was against Dallas Jesuit and talented right-handed Heath Van Kirk.
Van Kirk and Kastner were locked up in a pitcher’s duel through the first two-and-a-half innings before the Rangers scratched out a run in the bottom of the third. Kyle Muller reached base on a fielder’s choice, while Bryce Bonner (full count), Will Guzman (full count, seven pitches) and Jared Bond (3-1 count) all walked to force in Muller to take a 1-0 lead. Kastner was just missing the corners by a fraction of an inch in most of those pitches that were balls.
The Rangers plated a run in the fifth inning on fundamental baseball: a single with no outs, a sacrifice bunt and a single to right field. The Tigers put down the threat with a nifty Earl-to-Mark Reynolds-to Lutz 6-4-3 double play to get Belton out of the inning.
The Tigers only got four runners on base against Van Kirk, two of reached in the seventh inning. Hiland singled and Vail hit a laser-guided line drive to Connor Lynch, moving towards shortstop area and doubled off Hiland at first. Stafford doubled, but a strikeout ended the ball game.