By James Harper

Killeen Daily Herald

BELTON — The only thing that shone brighter than Jack Aldridge's smile after his first professional win was his confidence.

Aldridge barely held himself together Saturday night after he heard the best of news — he was the 88th annual 4th of July PRCA Rodeo saddle bronc champion.

"I'm really excited. I'm giving God all the glory," Aldridge said. "I'm really blessed because that horse was awesome."

The 20-year old Huntsville native rode Wild Flower to a score of 81 — completely dominating the field.

The nearest score during the course of the rodeo was Justin Browning's 75 from Thursday. On Saturday, only Nick Laduke of Livermore, Calif., came within range, with a 72.

"I grew up in the cowboy culture and always thought it was cool-looking so I gave it a try and fell in love with it," Aldridge said.

Though he's been riding for four years, Aldridge recently received his permit to compete professionally.

"This is my first year on my permit and I'm kind of getting used to it right now but I've been enjoying it for sure," he said. "It's awesome. There ain't nothing like it."

As if winning his first rodeo wasn't enough, Aldridge did it on the back of Wild Flower, a mare that is going to the rodeo finals in Las Vegas

"She was awesome feeling and a lot of fun to ride," Aldridge said.

The day didn't go as well for any of the remaining contestants as no other third day participant wrestled the top spot from the leaders in their respective events.

Jeremy Mouton's score of 83 held up in bareback riding and Austin Cormier's 4.0-second time in steer wrestling held as the two earned wins at Rodeo Belton.

Craig Cavaness of Brenham felt nothing but disappointment in his performance even though he finished just a tenth of a second behind the leader.

"It bothers me a little because you always strive for first," the 21-year steer wrestling veteran said. "But sometimes you have to be happy with second."

Though he didn't end up where he'd like, Cavaness still looks for the pleasures rodeo life can offer.

"It's a whole lot of enjoyment and a whole lot of adrenaline rush," Cavaness said.

Cherokee's Dillon Epperson had the best time in tie- down roping but it still was dominated by Chase Williams' time of 8.6 seconds.

Collinsville's Scooter Nolen Jr. and Tim Ross of Lipan had the highest team roping score of the day, finishing in 5.5 seconds — just shy of the 4.8 seconds put up by teammates Caleb Smidt and Joel Bach

In barrel racing, Reagan Dillard's Thursday score of 16.37-second ride held true despite an excellent ride by Troy's Tammi Reynolds who rode in 16.46 seconds to win the day but not the event.

In an improbable twist, not one rider over the course of the three-day rodeo was able to stay on his bull. The bulls' dominance let no rider finish in the money.

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