Belton coach Matt Blackburn didn’t want to do it.
No coach wants to play five freshmen on the varsity team, but after graduating six seniors from the 2011 team that went to the regional semifinals, he had to. This season he is going to reap the benefits.
The Lady Tigers return seven starters from last season’s team and nine players started their fair share of games.
And, yes, they also promoted a freshman to the varsity team — Sidney Holman, a 63-mph fireballer, who should share pitching duties with Alex Wilson, last season’s starter.
“It is a luxury to have. I feel like I have 12 starters right now,” Blackburn said. “I think this is the easiest way to promote a freshman pitcher — to have her surrounded by veterans. But, out of everyone, she might be the most equipped to play with pressure. She pitched for the national 14-and-under team.
“But once you get to high school it is a different element.”
Belton returns plenty of hitting as well with designated hitter Bekah Alcozer and first baseman Alyson Bishoff batting cleanup and seniors Meredith Langford and Kirsten Whiteside leading off for the Lady Tigers.
BELTON LADY TIGERS
Last season: 20-18, 8-6 12-5A
Key Player: Alex Wilson, Sr., P/3B
Outlook: The Lady Tigers should contend for the District 8-5A title this season, even with perennial power Waco Midway making the move up from 4A. Belton returns 10 players who played significant time on the varsity level this season and adds a freshman pitcher who touches 63 mph on the radar guns. A district title and maybe even a trip to the state playoffs could be in store if things go according to schedule for the Lady Tigers.
COPPERAS COVE LADY BULLDAWGS
Last Season: 13-16, 5-9 District 12-5A (missed playoffs)
Key Players: Ashley Hartwell, Sr., C; Irene Espinoza, Jr., SS; Elliana Doubleday, Jr., OF
Outlook: First-year coach Shelly Hayes inherits lots of talent, but when a new coach is introduced to a team, it is always interesting to see how they jell with the players. If Hayes is able to figure out her new team, Copperas Cove could be in for a good season. In addition to having a field full of young players to mold into her desired philosophy, thanks to UIL realignment, the Lady Bulldawgs no longer have to contend with former district power Bryan, which finished second in District 12-5A last season before advancing to the regional semifinals in the playoffs, or third-place finisher A&M Consolidated. The moves open up the district a little bit, allowing for the Lady Bulldawgs, who finished fourth in district last season, to make a run at the playoffs.
ELLISON LADY EAGLES
Last Season: 10-13, 6-8 12-5A
Key Player: Dusti Douglas, So., SS
Outlook: After struggling just to win a district game for several seasons, the Lady Eagles made a play for the postseason last year, falling a game short after losing in a winner-take-all season finale against Belton. But star sophomore Douglas will help spearhead Ellison’s resurgence this year after winning 12-5A newcomer of the year with team-highs in batting average (.473), OPS (1.159), hits (43), singles (33) and stolen bases (19).
FLORENCE LADY BUFFALOES
Last season: 0-19, 0-12 27-2A
Key Player: Brooklyne Owens, So., 3B
Outlook: After a dismal season in 2012, the Lady Buffaloes can only do better this year. Florence should be infused with youth this season with six freshman expected to contribute, including shortstop Clarissa Carranco and pitcher Mackenzie Futrell. They add to a returning core that includes Owens, who pitched for the Lady Buffs last season, and junior catcher Samantha Vaughan.
GATESVILLE LADY HORNETS
Last Season: 15-11, 3-7 District 19-3A (missed playoffs)
Key Players: Lauren Nichols, Sr., SS.; Megan Chambers, Sr., OF; Ashley Cook, Sr. OF; Paige Chambers, Sr., 2B
Outlook: Gatesville only lost two starters from its 2012 team that finished just shy of reaching the playoffs for the first time since making a run to the Class 3A state tournament semifinals in 2009. Third-year coach Crystal O’Brien’s roster is stacked with senior talent — including unanimous all-district selection Megan Chambers and Ashley Cook — she has been grooming since arriving at Gatesville. But the Lady Hornets must find a way to replace last season’s District 19-3A Defensive MVP, Jaycee Summers, who graduated after posting a perfect fielding percentage en route to the award.
HARKER HEIGHTS LADY KNIGHTS
Last season: 5-18, 2-12 12-5A
Key player: Ashley Olson, Sr., C
Outlook: For the second straight season, the Lady Knights only managed two wins in district play. Things don’t get any easier in the new District 8-5A, which introduces perennial playoff team Waco Midway and Killeen to the mix. If Heights can flip the script, it’s going to require wins against teams not named Shoemaker, whom the Lady Knights swept last year.
KILLEEN LADY ROOS
Last Season: 4-14, 0-10 8-4A
Key Players: Olivia Lacewell, Leah Jones
Outlook: The Lady Roos struggled last season without the reliable hitting of Leslie James, who graduated in 2011. Olivia Lacewell and Leah Jones, 2012 all-district second-team selections, who are both signed with Prairie View A&M, will have to lead Killeen through its tough 8-5A schedule that includes three perennially tough teams in Belton, Temple and district newcomer Waco Midway.
LAMPASAS LADY BADGERS
Last Season: 26-9, 8-2 District 25-3A (lost to Columbia in regional semifinals)
Key Players: Alex Caruthers, Jr., C; Kelsi Gilseth, Sr., IF; Blake Webb, So., 2B
Outlook: Lampasas has a lot of growing to do if it is going to continue the program’s recent string of success. The Lady Badgers lost a quartet of major contributors in Tealey Farquhar, Kady Crow, Hailey Morrison and Hadley Brown due to graduation, and equally important, lost their head coach. Rusty Erwin departed for A&M Consolidated after delivering a 52-22 overall record and taking the team to consecutive regional semifinal appearances in his two seasons at Lampasas. Cassie Crabtree, who served as head coach for UT-Dallas prior to taking a hiatus from the sport, takes over the program. Time will tell if her coaching philosophy accentuates the players’ skills.
SALADO LADY EAGLES
Last Season: 17-12, 4-6 25-3A
Key Player: Shyenne Hicks, Jr., P/OF
Outlook: For the second straight year, the Lady Eagles are starting anew under a new head coach after coming within a game of the playoffs after falling just short the year before. But the cupboard is hardly bare for first-year head coach Kory Craddick, with senior pitcher/infielder Jenna Franz and junior slugger Hicks (.347 average, 5 HRs, 30 RBIs) returning to lead the charge.
SHOEMAKER LADY GREY WOLVES
Last Season: 1-21, 0-14 12-5A
Key Player: Morissa Cosper
Outlook: The Lady Grey Wolves hope chemistry between returners Morissa Cosper, Laryn Brinkman and Helana Carter will be enough to help them contend for a playoff berth in a competitive District 8-5A. They’ve struggled since their only playoff appearance in 2009, but with A&M Consolidated and Bryan getting moved out of the district, Shoemaker could contend for a playoff spot if they could string some wins and confidence together early in the season.
Last Season: 24-9-1, 12-2 12-5A
Key Player: Lexi Smith
Outlook: Led by 2012 District 12-5A MVP Lexi Smith, the Tem-Cats will be expected to at least contend for their second straight district championship. Waco Midway also figures into the district title discussion after winning the 8-4A title last year and a 4A state championship in 2010. The Tem-Cats reached the regional semifinals, where they fell to The Woodlands.
Contact Nick Talbot at email@example.com or (254) 501-7569
Staff writers Kevin Posival, Alex Byington and Clay Whittington contributed to this report.