LAMPASAS — In nine days, Belton tripled its win total, but the Lady Tigers’ confidence increased even more exponentially.
After losing 10 of its first 12 games, Belton appeared to be headed for a difficult duration of the season. Then, the Lady Tigers beat Copperas Cove on the road, earning their first District 8-5A victory, and suddenly, they had momentum.
Belton returned from the holiday break to split its two games of pool play on the opening day of the Lady Badger Holiday Tournament, falling just shy of earning a berth in the championship bracket thanks to a 13-minute stretch without a field goal to end its game against Corsicana.
The Lady Tigers bounced back Saturday, however, upsetting Class 3A No. 11 Lorena en route to winning the silver bracket.
Having experienced a successful run, Belton head coach Brenda Gomez believes her team is prepared to resume district play with a newfound poise and assurance.
“The competition is just a little different opposed to district teams,” she said. “But you’ve got to build that confidence somewhere, and I felt like this was a great time for our kids to step up and know that they are capable.”
The Lady Tigers (6-11, 1-3) produced a statement victory against the state-ranked Lady Leopards, hitting several crucial free throws late in the game to secure the 43-36 win.
With less than a minute remaining in regulation, Lorena held a slim 36-35 lead, but an outburst by Lady Leopards head coach Rodney Gee gave Belton the opportunity it needed to surge ahead.
After an out-of-bounds call was reversed, giving possession to the Lady Tigers, Gee began loudly disputing the call with officials. Meanwhile, the ball was inbounded to Hugo, who recorded an uncontested layup, sending Gee into a rage.
Gee was restrained by assistant coaches on several occasions as he attempted to angrily race toward an official, and eventually received a technical during an ensuing timeout.
As a result, Belton junior guard Aubrianna Garcia went to the free-throw line, making each of her attempts to give the Lady Tigers a 39-36 advantage with 42 seconds remaining.
Forced to foul, Lorena sent Belton to the free-throw line twice during the final 13 seconds, but Kaitlyn Jones and Garcia, who scored a game-high 13 points, connected on all four shots.
Following the game, Gomez admitted she was somewhat surprised to see her team excel late in the game under pressure.
“We’ve worked so hard in the last couple of years on fundamentals, that practicing for a certain situation; well, they haven’t heard of that yet,” the third-year Belton coach said laughing. “But we are getting there.”
Later, Belton held Fredericksburg scoreless in the third quarter and won the silver bracket.
After building a 21-13 halftime advantage, Garcia accounted for eight of the Lady Tigers’ 11 third-quarter points, while the Lady Billies failed to score, allowing Belton to construct a comfortable cushion. Fredericksburg outscored the Lady Tigers 11-8 in the fourth quarter, but it was not enough, and Belton won 40-24.
Sophomore forward Blair Gilbert scored a game-high nine points for the Lady Tigers, while Garcia finished with eight and Hugo added six.
Belton is idle until district play resumes Friday at home against Killeen, but Gomez believes her players will be prepared to make a run at returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
“The kids are now starting to believe in everything we are doing,” she said. “We are hanging in there in games we’ve never hung in there before, and I think that makes a difference.”