By Clay Whittington
Belton Journal

WEST – It is over.

With a group of talented seniors reviving the program, the Tigers put together a historic season. Belton won 13 of its first 14 games, reached two tournament championships, produced a pair of signature victories against perennial area power Killeen Ellison – the first in school history – broke into the state rankings and experienced its first taste of a district title since 2004.

But now, it is over.

The Tigers’ season came to a close Tuesday in the Class 6A playoffs’ bi-district round, where DeSoto advanced in a double-overtime classic, winning 63-59 to spoil T.J. Johnson’s 27-point, 14-rebound double-double.

Belton made a trio of 3-pointers en route to taking a 13-9 advantage into the second period, but the Eagles used a 13-2 outburst to take control. Despite missing seven of 10 field goals attempted in the quarter, the Tigers remained within striking distance, trailing 30-25 at halftime.

Then, Johnson, a four-year starter, took control.

The senior, who finished with three blocks, two assists and a steal, was responsible for 15 of Belton’s 18 points in the period, making three 3-pointers in the process, and the teams entered the fourth quarter tied 43-43.

The Tigers were poised to win, leading 53-49 with 1 minute, 9 seconds remaining in regulation, but they could not maintain the momentum. DeSoto (26-11) closed the quarter with four unanswered points to force overtime, and the Eagles tied the game 59-59 with a pair of free throws to send the game into a second overtime, where Belton was unable to produce a point.

Hampered with foul trouble, Belton sophomore Trap Johnson tallied eight of his 10 points in the fourth quarter, while teammates Tyler Tingle and Seth Morgan (5 rebounds, 2 assists) scored six points apiece, and Trent West (4 rebounds) and Peyton Euer each had three points.

The outcome significantly affects the Tigers’ lineup as only three players – Trap Johnson, sophomore Gian Carlo and junior E.J. Foutz – are eligible to return from their current roster. Foutz received minimal minutes against DeSoto, but he connected on his only two free throws in the game, giving Belton a 59-57 lead with 43.1 seconds remaining in overtime.

The defeat closes the high school careers for starters West, Tingle, Morgan and T.J. Johnson. Additionally, former starter Bryan Henry, a forward, is also graduating after an injury forced him to miss the conclusion of the regular season schedule.

Furthermore, Toby Smithey, Aaron Rhodes, who had two points on a pair of second-quarter free throws against DeSoto, Micaiah Edwards and Euer are each seniors.