By Tony Adams

Belton Journal

NAVASOTA – When a young and impressionable team like the Belton Tigers softball squad makes the playoffs, it is always a heartfelt story.

However, some stories do not have happy conclusions.

Friday’s trip to Navasota was met with early fraught, as several team members had a bout with food poisoning on their way to take on the Class 5A defending state champion Montgomery Lake Creek Lions at Lady Rattler Field.

The Lions scored three times in the second inning, twice in the third, and batted around in the fourth inning for six runs to eliminate the hopes of an upset by Belton, as Lake Creek (29-6) defeated the Tigers in five innings, 11-0.

“I am so incredibly proud of these kids, the effort that they put out there and the young women that they have become,” Belton head coach Morgan Birkel said. “They are truly shaping this program and really making my job easy.”

Reagan Stuart got the starting assignment in the circle and retired the side in the first inning.

Belton (21-14) had their best scoring opportunity in the bottom of the first inning. With one out, Hailey Schutz walked and stole two bases to set the Tigers up for a potential score. However, a strikeout and a flyout ended the Tigers threat.

An RBI double from Maci Nowak, sacrifice fly by Bella Battaglia, and RBI single from Piper White in the second inning gave the Lions a 3-0 lead.

Sara Wiggins struck out four Tigers in a road between the second and third innings to set the Lions’ offense up for success in the third and fourth innings.

An error scored Gracie Brewer and Alyson Higginbotham’s sacrifice fly scored Addi Davis as the Lions increased their lead to five.

The Lions’ six-run fourth inning was highlighted by Nowak’s two-run double and Madalyn Davis’ single and three-base error that scored three runs.

“The Lions were exactly what we scouted,” Birkel said. “Aside from a defensive change, they had a lot of speed, played a lot of small-ball, and they had lots of hits to the outfield that we needed to defend.”

LucyLiu Gaines-Lucas came on in relief in the fourth inning to lock up the run column.

Gaines-Lucas broke up the no-hitter with one out in the fifth with a single up the middle.

Brewer led the Lions’ 11-hit attack with four hits and three runs scored. Although Lake Creek had 11 runs in the contest, just five were earned.

“It’s been an incredible season, and I am so proud of what they have accomplished,” Birkel said. “It’s amazing to see the legacy that they have left behind.”

Getting acclimated to a difference in coaching style and training was something that the Tigers were tasked with in 2024. The team had a solid start in tournament season and a 10-4 mark in District 22-5A, good for third place.

“It has been an incredible journey. We took a couple of losses due to injuries and illnesses as the season progressed,” Birkel said. “We talked at the during the end of game meeting about the adversity this team faced, how they overcame it and did not let it phase them. They take everything one step forward and figure out a way to make the best out of every situation. They have truly made it part of the culture here.”