By Tony Adams

Belton Journal

If there was any doubt about the Lake Belton Broncos having one of the most difficult schedules in their short program history, this spring’s non-district schedule tells the story.

Lake upset No. 3 Georgetown at Lady Eagles Field on opening night, 3-1. They added wins over Alvin Shadow Creek (6-2), Friendswood (9-1), and Cy-Fair (5-0) in a difficult field at the 2024 National Fastpitch Coaches Association Leadoff Classic in Bryan.

The pre-district schedule’s bump in the road saw the Broncos lose three of their next four. The Broncos were bumped into the fifth-place bracket at the NFCA after sustaining a 1-0 loss to Class 6A No. 5 Rockwall on a walk-off double in the bottom of the seventh. The loss was followed by a tough loss to Lucas Lovejoy, 4-1. Lake finished the tournament with a 3-2 win over Humble Kingwood. Then, they suffered a 5-4 loss at Abilene, having rallied from a 5-2 deficit and were robbed of the game-tying hit on a sensational diving catch by the Lady Eagles’ centerfielder to end the game.

“It is why we schedule games like these,” Lake Belton’s first-year head coach Kelsie McEachern said. “We are tested every game in every way. There has been no letup in the schedule.”

McEachern, who is joined on staff by assistants Rachel Ripley and Jeremiah Adams, is no stranger to tough opponents. A graduate of Huffman Hargrave, National Championship winner at University of Texas-Tyler, and Texas Lutheran graduate, she spent the last two seasons at Kingwood Park, and had stops at Poth and Karnes City along her journey to Lake Belton.

The Broncos then played at the Round Rock Dragon Invitational against another five solid squads: Round Rock, Round Rock Stony Point, Kyle Lehman, Elgin, and San Antonio Madison, They swept the five squads by a combined score of 60-7.

Lake Belton graduated their first softball class in 2023 with Madison Lux moving on to play at Tarleton State, Elaina Herrera playing at McMurry University, and Zakayia Frederick pitching at Texas A&M International. Autumn Holman and Hannah Jensen were also key graduates from the class.

Four-year starters Shelby Schultz (Tarleton), Casey Schultz (Tarleton), Vic Shimabukuro (Mary Hardin-Baylor), Angie DeLeon (Temple College), and Haley Hoffman (Navarro Junior College) have all committed to play softball collegiately.

There are plenty of talented players on this season’s roster. Shelby Schultz’s left-arm has been a constant in the circle through the program’s history and is joined by right-handed junior Maddison Ruiz and freshman Natalie Hosch.

Shimabukuro platooned with Jensen over her first three seasons at catcher and is joined this season by freshmen Briley Updyke and Madison Naser.

Casey Schultz has held down the shortstop position for three seasons and will complete her Bronco career at short. Alexis Ortiz has been solid at third base early in the season as the team awaits DeLeon’s return from Lady Broncos Basketball. Naser has primarily played first base this season and Addison Sims has had an excellent start to her season at second.

Shimabukuro can play all three outfield positions, and Hoffman has played in left field and right field this season. Hosch has played extensively in left field, and freshman speedster Madison Perkins has been patrolling center field.

The Broncos (10-3 as of Feb. 24) will take on Belton to start District 22-5A play on Feb. 27 before taking on a tough field at the Georgetown-Leander Tournament. They are slated to take on Class 3A No. 3 Rains and Lorena at Glenn High School on Feb. 29, Georgetown and Godley at Georgetown High on March 1, and Leander Rouse and Troy at East View on March 2 to complete the non-district schedule. The District 22-5A schedule resumes against Lady Lions at the Waco ISD Complex on March 5.

“The whole reason why we are challenging the girls is to prepare the team for the district schedule and the playoffs,” McEachern said. “We are evaluating them in multiple scenarios and situations.”