One of the most gifted and accomplished senior classes in the history of Belton Lady Tigers Softball were honored in front of the home fans at Lady Tiger Field before their District 12-6A home contest against Killeen Ellison on Friday night.
Avery Drake, Caleigh Robinson, Izzy Gutierrez, Madison Ward, Madison Cotton, Jayden Tabler, Taylor Tubbs, and Madison Sniggs were all recognized in front of the capacity crowd for their contributions to the Belton Softball program.
Once the action started on the field, the focus solely on the Lady Eagles. Belton worked their way back from a two-run deficit in the first inning and had to execute plenty of patience at the plate before starting to hit Ellison pitching. Junior Payton Cook’s three-run, walk-off homer to left field capped off a memorable night for the Lady Tigers, as they defeated Ellison 19-2 in four innings.
With one out in the top of the first inning, the Lady Eagles picked up a pair of unearned runs off of junior pitcher Hannah Kelley. Andrea Lopez reached base on a dropped third strike and Sammi Guitterez reached on a fielder’s choice, as Lopez beat the throw to second base. Chantel Cancel’s bunt attempt was caught on a diving play by Sniggs. As Sniggs threw down to first base to attempt to double-off Cancel, the throw went wide of the bag and skidded all the way down the right field fence line. Guitterez and Cancel both scored to put the Lady Eagles up 2-0.
Tiara Rodriguez got the start for the Lady Eagles and Belton came back with seven runs in the bottom of the inning, on just one hit. Miranda Davila stole home plate to cut the deficit to 2-1. The Lady Tigers then collected an RBI hit-by-pitch by Ward to tie the game, RBI walk to Gutierrez to pull ahead 3-2, RBI walk by Emily Parker, a two-run single by Tabler, and then Tabler scored on a throwing error by catcher Bailey Bark to put Belton up 7-2. Rodriguez was replaced by Chelsey Benedict after allowing a walk to Davila, the 11th batter of the inning.
Ellison’s lone two hits of the game were deep infield singles by Anyssa Chelby and Cancel respectively. Both were stranded on base.
After Belton left two runners on base in the second inning, they put up six runs in the third inning. With one out, Avery Drake singled, stole two bases, and Davila drove her home with a single. Davila stole second base, Robinson walked, and Paige Nunes singled home Davila. Sniggs was hit by a pitch before Ward’s two-run single and Gutierrez’s sacrifice fly put the Lady Tigers up 13-2.
Belton head coach Matt Blackburn started replacing his senior starters in the third inning. Tubbs, who played for one pitch at third base, was replaced by Emily Parker. Cotton, who pitched to two batters in the third inning, was replaced by Kelley under re-entry rule. In the fourth inning, Tabler was replaced by Cook in left field, Harley Staton replaced Gutierrez in right field, Nunes replaced Sniggs behind the plate, McKenzie Drake replaced Ward in center, Bethany Sherwood replaced Robinson at first base, and Emily Parker replaced Avery Drake at shortstop, with Maddison Parker taking third base. The fourth inning changes were all made in succession.
That set up a thrilling ending for the Lady Tigers in the bottom of the fourth inning, as the seniors got the front-row seat to watch their successors close out the game. Davila doubled to left field to start the inning and Nunes followed with a one-out walk. Sniggs, the lone senior still in the batting order at the time, doubled home Davila and Nunes. McKenzie Drake reached base on a fielder’s choice and with two outs, Staton was hit by a pitch. Emily Parker reached on a dropped third strike, which scored Drake. Cook drove the first pitch from Benedict high and long over the left field wall to end the game by mercy rule, 19-2.
Kelley got the win in the circle for the Lady Tigers. She went 3 1/3 innings, allowed two unearned runs on two hits, hit a batter, walked no one, and struck out six. Cotton struck out one batter in 2/3 inning.
Belton collected just seven hits on the night, with Davila collecting the lone multi-hit game. The Lady Tigers endured 11 walks and six hit batters over the course of 3 2/3 innings at the plate.
The Lady Tigers hit the road to take on Class 5A No. 3 Dripping Springs Saturday at 1 p.m.