The Belton Tiger Softball team had its share of ups and downs in the 2020 campaign. There were lots of growing pains that the team went through in order to get them into competitive shape.
After the first two tournaments of the season (4-7) and opening two games of District 12-6A play, Belton stood at 6-7. Based on the level of competition that Head Coach Matt Blackburn built his schedule upon, it was no surprise.
“When we put together the schedule, we felt that we needed to be better prepared for playoff competition,” Blackburn said in February. “The Bryan Tournament is always tough. The Round Rock Tournament became tougher, and the Leander Tournament had several teams that went deep into the playoffs. That is the reason I decided not to host the Belton Tournament this year and build this team up for a postseason run.”
Hannah Kelley opened the season with a five-inning perfect game at Copperas Cove, as Maddison Parker crushed a pair of home runs and had five RBI in a 15-0 win.
The crazy start to the NFCA Leadoff Classic saw the Tigers log nearly 200 miles of travel in the opening two days. After drilling Pasadena Dobie, they had to log a triple-header the following day. They lost a tight affair to state-ranked Leander (1-0) in Franklin, and then traveled to College Station as they shutout Boerne (8-0) and were nipped by a very talented Friendswood squad (2-1). They closed out the tournament the next day with a split to finish the tournament 3-3.
After they defeated an improved Harker Heights squad (11-1), Belton played in the Round Rock ISD Tournament. In a tournament that has been a mixed bag for the Tigers over the years, the competition level was ferocious.
The Tigers did not play well against Bowie (8-2) and found themselves in a slugfest with Elgin that ended controversially in a 14-12 loss in the first day.
They split on the second day, as they struggled to find the offense against New Braunfels Canyon in a 3-1 loss. They bounced back to rout Austin High 8-2.
Belton and Round Rock locked up in a pitcher’s duel between Kelley and Lady Dragons’ ace Lauren HerrNeckar. Round Rock picked up both runs in the second inning and shut out the Tigers, 2-0. HerrNeckar tossed a perfect game, striking out 13 Tigers. Kelley struck out nine.
The Tigers bounced back to shut out Shoemaker, 10-0, to earn Blackburn his 300th win in his 13th year at the helm. It was a sign of things to come for Belton.
The tournament that really helped Belton turn the corner was the Leander ISD Tournament. The weather conditions the night before scrambled the venues and matchups for Belton.
They leveled a charge against a solid Cedar Park team (11-3) and avenged a 2019 walk-off loss at Dripping Springs with an 8-2 win at Leander’s Lion Field.
Following a day off, Belton was faced with another three-game day. This time, the venue was Rouse’s Lady Raider Field.
Belton got off to a hot start against Vandegrift and dispatched the Lady Vipers, 14-4.
The next two games ended up being signature wins for the 2020 team, as they took on Class 4A No. 4 Liberty Hill and host school, Rouse.
Belton led the Panthers for most of the ballgame and led 4-2 before an RBI double and RBI single tied the ballgame. Time expired at the end of the fifth inning. It forced the game into an international tiebreaker (ITB) inning. Going into the inning, Blackburn had never won a career game where the Tigers had gone to an ITB inning.
Belton managed to escape a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the sixth inning to set up a second ITB inning.
Payton Cook’s sacrifice fly scored Kaylee Rodriguez to give Belton a 5-4 lead. On the next pitch, Lux hit the biggest home run of the season with a towering shot over the left-centerfield wall to put the Tigers up 7-4.
The Panthers scored once, and Kelley slammed the door to give Belton the 7-5 win to give Blackburn his first ITB win.
Belton jumped on Rouse in moments later in the first inning, as Lux homered again and McKayla Seeliger followed with a solo shot to give the Tigers a 3-0 lead.
Rouse caught the Tigers in the fifth inning, and time expired with Belton and the Raiders faced with another ITB finish.
Miranda Davila scored on a passed ball, and Rodriguez crushed a 1-1 pitch over the left-field fence to give the Tigers a 7-4 lead.
Zakaiya Frederick allowed a run in the bottom of the seventh inning. However, she managed to induce a strikeout and two groundouts to give Belton another ITB win, 7-5.
In what would be the final game of the season, Belton and Temple played at Lady Tiger Field on March 9, the Monday of spring break.
Temple took an early lead before the Belton bats kicked in, and the Tigers defeated the TemCats, 13-4.
The team had a collective batting average of .365 (178-of-488) with 23 homers, 132 runs batted in, 151 runs scored, 63 walks, 56 stolen bases, 37 doubles, 13 sacrifices, .442 on-base percentage and .427 batting average (88-of-206) with runners in scoring position.
The team earned run average in the circle was 3.22. The Tigers allowed 42 runs (25 earned) on 114 hits, 112 strikeouts, 22 walks (two intentional), allowed 11 home runs, three hit batters, three wild pitches, an opponent’s OBP of .298 and opponents batting average of .260. They stranded 100 runners on base.
Belton Head Coach Matt Blackburn won his 300th career game on March 4 against Shoemaker, as the Tigers went 13-7 to conclude the season and 4-0 in District 12-6A. His career record stands at 306-136-1 (.692).
The 2020 senior class of Maddison Parker (Prairie View A&M), Miranda Davila (Abilene Christian University), Hannah Kelley (East Texas Baptist University) and Payton Cook (Texas A&M-Texarkana) was a productive class. Davila and Kelley each played four years on varsity, while Parker and Cook each played three seasons.
Davila had 99 career hits, scored 103 runs, stolen 56 bases, drove in 39 runs, walked 35 times and had a .432 batting average.
Parker had 86 career hits, 20 homers (including school-record 15 clouts in 2019), 95 RBI, 58 runs scored and a .407 batting average.
Cook had 45 career hits, 48 runs scored, five homers, 38 runs batted in and had a .352 career batting average.
Kelley went 25-11 with two saves in the circle. She pitched 186 1/3 innings, allowed 88 runs (66 earned) on 189 hits and finished her career with a 2.48 earned run average.