By Tony Adams,
The Belton Tigers baseball team will have that typical power-laden lineup offensively, solid defense and stellar pitching.
It is historical in nature for Big Red. It is Belton Baseball. Always has had it. Always will have it.
Belton head coach Eddie Cornblum and his assistant coaches Darin Blomquist and Mark Krueger have brought back together a solid core of returners for 2015 season. That solid base of speed, smart base running and power will be able to put a truckload of runs up onto the scoreboard.
“It’s a unique mix of talent. We have our outfield back from last year and three-fourths of our pitching staff back. The infield is all new. The returners lead by example, sometimes quietly by example. The work ethic is there. We have some returners and guys in the outfield that can do things that are exciting. Driving the ball, being able to bunt…the mix of returners and new guys is pretty exciting.”
Coby Potvin sets the table as the leadoff guy for the Tigers. A three-sport athlete with a quick first step and uncanny ability to drop down a bunt at any time, Potvin was one of the district leaders in 2014 in bunt singles and stolen bases. His speed in centerfield makes him an asset in helping patrol the alleys on the Tigers’ defense.
Shane Stafford is a dangerous offensive weapon returning for the Tigers. After his three-homer, 10-RBI two-inning performance against Killeen Shoemaker in district last season, many pitchers were leery in pitching to the senior outfielder/pitcher. His eye and smarts at the plate made him one of the most difficult batters to pitch to in the area.
Trent Stafford is a pitcher’s nightmare when it comes to facing the junior outfielder/pitcher. A batter who works pitchers into aggravation and then making them pay blasting pitches where fielders aren’t, Trent was one of the team’s offensive leaders.
With the three starting outfielders returning, that anchors the defense for the Tigers.
“Having them returning is huge,” Cornblum said. “Shane has been with us three years, Coby two-and-a-half years and Trent is just a junior. They know what it takes to prepare for a game. Coby is our leadoff guy, Shane is anywhere between second and number five and Trent is anywhere in the three, four or five spots. Just to have that presence in the outfield and in the middle of your lineup is huge.”
Defensively, the Tigers look to replace an infield that was a force to be reckoned with over the past two years with Sortor, Chase Cryer (University of Houston), Walker Winders (Blinn College) and Mark Herrington (St. Louis College of Pharmacy). Sortor has made the conversion from first base to third base. Nathan Santiago moves in a second base and Miguel Quinones has played well at shortstop.
“As the more games we get in, the more we try to speed up the game to them,” Cornblum said. “To jump from JV to varsity, the ball gets on them quicker and the speed is faster. They’re adjusting to the speed better and know how important the defense is.
Jacob Alexander, Reese Hohhertz and Nathan Vail are the varsity catchers in 2015. Alexander has 12 varsity games under his belt and has stepped up in a leadership role for the Tigers.
“He has really picked his game up,” Cornblum said. “His positive attitude, his leadership and work ethic have been awesome. He understands completely how to lead by example and handles to pitchers well. They all do and with the catchers that we have back there right now, our pitchers are not scared to throw anything. We like all three of our guys.”
Spending his first two seasons hitting the ball well as the team’s first baseman, Sortor made his transition to third base defensively seamlessly.
“The conversion has been smooth, but I believe he will play both,” Cornblum said.
“The surprise has really been Hobey Hiland, who has also come in to play third base. We knew what we had with Hobey coming in, we just didn’t know how good. With Aaron Reed also playing first, it gives us options at first base, third base and designated hitter.”
Pitching wise, the Tigers are deep. Southpaw Tanner Frick returns from a great sophomore season. Add in Dustin Tish, Trent Stafford, Shane Stafford and Cameron Whitman, among others on staff and Belton has one of the best staffs in the area.
“Right now, everything centers around Frick,” Cornblum said. “Tish has looked good. Trent has been sharp. Cameron has been a surprise, though we knew what we were getting with him. I like our pitching staff and Coach Blom has done a great job in preparing them not only physically, but on the mental side of pitching and understand that they’re just not throwing, but they’re fielding a position as well.”
Offensively, other Tigers are there to contribute to the team in big ways.
Potvin sets the table at the top of the lineup. But the philosophy will be different for the Tigers in 2015.
“We’re going to do things a little different this season then we have done it with previous teams,” Cornblum explained. “We’re going to bunt and we’re going to run more. We have been spending quite a bit of the spring on that part of the game. We spent a lot of the scrimmages doing that right now. The goal is to occupy second base every inning. If we accomplish that, running, bunting, taking an extra base on a ball in the dirt, getting good reads at first base and stealing second, just giving our guys two or three chances an inning, we’ll be alright.”
The schedule is very challenging for Belton right from the start. Following their game with Hutto Tuesday night at Tiger Field, the Round Rock Tournament features games against Austin Anderson and El Paso Americas (March 5 at Stony Point High School), Round Rock and Kingwood Park (March 6 at Round Rock High School) and Midland Christian (March 7 at Westwood).
The Highland Park Tournament features games against Prosper and Fort Smith Southside (March 12 at Prosper High School), Highland Park (March 13 at Highland Park High School), Sachse March 13 at Coppell High School) and Rowlett and Rockwall Heath (March 14 at Highland Park High School). Both tournaments feature high quality teams and the Scots tournament will feature the caliber of teams that the Tigers will see from District 11-5A come the bi-district playoffs.
“The tournament will be challenging,” Cornblum said. “It will give us a great opportunity to see tough teams and baseball that we will measure ourselves against.”
The District 12-6A starts March 17 at Shoemaker, which will mean that the Tigers will have 12 games in before district starts. Sprinkle in non-district tilts with Westwood (March 28 at Tiger Field), at Lake Travis (April 11), Stony Point (April 18 at Tiger Field) and at Duncanville (April 21) and the Tigers will have a packed schedule, battle-tested for a playoff run.
“I like the makeup of our district this season,” Cornblum said. “Harker Heights has their two pitchers (Tyler Torres and Caleb Dean), Midway always has great players, Cove is getting better and the Killeen schools are getting better every year. I think this season will be a great one for us.”