Last season saw two area teams make the softball regional semifinals as Belton and Lampasas both capped off their 2011 seasons with impressive playoff runs.

This season, both are expected to once again dominate on the diamond. Belton lost key figures in District 12-5A MVP pitcher Allison Boston and Herald MVP shortstop Amber Peters.

However, they are once again loaded and are ranked No. 13 in 5A. Lampasas is just outside the top 20 as it returns three of its main cogs from last season's team. Meanwhile, other area teams are looking for respect as Ellison, Harker Heights and Killeen all expect improvement this season as they bring back key talent.

BeltonLast Season: 28-10, 12-2 12-5AOutlook: Belton made it to the Region II-5A semifinals last season, but suffered a pair of losses to the nation's top-ranked team, The Woodlands. Despite being swept, the Lady Tigers had the 40-0 Lady Highlanders on the brink in both 1-run games of their series. They come into the season with three returning starters (Alex Wilson, Kirsten Whiteside and Billi Farr) and are ranked No. 13 in 5A.

Copperas Cove Last Season: 13-16, 5-9 12-5AOutlook: The Lady Dawgs were young and talented last year and will look to bridge the gap between themselves and 12-5A's usual four front-runners. Junior Ashley Hartwell (2B, 3B, C) and senior Katelyn Stephens (P) lead the Lady Dawgs' host of all-district talent as Cove looks to make up ground from its fifth-place finish — four games behind fourth — last season.

EllisonLast Season: 5-26, 0-14 12-5A Outlook: Ellison won its last 12-5A game in the district opener two years ago. Since then, the Lady Eagles have dropped 27 straight district games. If they are going to turn things around, the Lady Eagles' must finally put things together on both sides of the ball, with SP/1B Alyssa Castro and OF Rayven Jones leading the way.

FlorenceLast Season: 4-23-1, 1-13 27-2AOutlook: It was a long season for the Lady Buffs in 2011 as they were constantly let down by their defense. However, that roster only featured two seniors. This season, the Lady Buffs will rely heavily on Erica Martinez, who batted .484 with 17 RBIs and 13 runs scored last season and also started the majority of the games on the mound, but had an 8.14 ERA. Cheyenne Daniels and Becky Randall also batted more than .300 last season.

Gatesville Last Season: 15-15, 4-6 19-3AOutlook: Playing their first season without four-year staring pitcher Emily Leib (Temple College), the Hornets took their lumps last season. But they're young, expect them to bounce back this season. The Hornets are led by a pair of sophomore, all-district first-team selections — Riley Latham (3B) and Megan Chambers (CF) — and a collection of up-and-comers.

Harker HeightsLast Season: 8-22, 2-12 12-5A Outlook: The Lady Knights have continued to struggle to pick themselves out of the bottom half of the 12-5A standings for the last several seasons. If Heights hopes to beat anybody other than Ellison in district, it'll take a concerted effort by all 11 returners from last year's team — led by multi-year starters Harley Fine, Reagan McIlvenna and Ashlyn Osborne.

Killeen Last Season: 7-16, 2-8 8-4A Outlook: With a quicker start in district, the Lady Roos could sneak into the playoffs. They threatened last year with back-to-back wins to start the second half of their 8-4A schedule, but couldn't sustain the momentum. All-district selections Leslie James (1B/P), Shalanda Hyde (OF) and Olivia Lacewell (P) will have to play more prominently for Killeen to find the long-sought postseason.

LampasasLast Season: 26-13, 6-4 25-3AOutlook: Last season the Lady Badgers went all the way to the regional semifinals. The Lady Badgers started the year without their top pitcher, Taylor Holloman and were up and down going into district play. Once they got going, the Lady Badgers outscored their first three playoff opponents 56-15 in sweeping all three series. This season, they return three senior stars from that team (Hadley Brown, Kady Crow and Tealey Farquhar).

SaladoLast Season: 15-12, 4-6 25-3A Outlook: After making a late, albeit unsuccessful, playoff push last season, the Lady Eagles move forward under first-year coach Amanda Hibbs. A young team last year, Salado returns some sound experience in senior Lorna Payne, junior Jenna Franz and sophomore Cheyenne Hicks, who should slide right back into the cleanup spot.

Shoemaker Last Season: 9-24, 5-9 12-5A Outlook: Without a single returning starter, the Lady Grey Wolves will be relying on JV call-up athlete Hailee Showers (Jr., SS), move-in Morissa Cosper (Jr., P) and softball first-timer Helana Carter (Jr., 2B) to get Shoemaker back to the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

Hadley BrownLampasas, Sr. (SS)Batting out of the No. 3 hole, Brown — a first-team District 25-3A selection — hit .403 (52 total hits) with eight doubles and four homers while driving in 38 runs.

Kady CrowLampasas, Sr. (P)A first-team all-District 25-3A selection after finishing 23-11 with a 3.27 ERA and striking out 126 in 211 2/3 innings. She also batted .388 with 49 hits, 26 RBIs and 24 runs scored.

Tealey FarquharLampasas, Sr. (CF)Batting leadoff and playing center field, Farquhar earned the District 25-3A co-offensive MVP after leading the area in hits (64) and triples (eight) while scoring 43 runs.

Billi FarrBelton, Sr. (LF, CF)Coming on late in the year to take over center field for the Lady Tigers, Farr hit .417 and drove in 14 runs and scored 12 in only 36 at-bats in District 12-5A play.

Ashley HartwellCopperas Cove, Jr. (2B, 3B, C)The younger sister of Justine Hartwell (Clarendon College) was a District 12-5A first-team infielder and received consideration for defensive player of the year.

Leslie James Killeen, Sr. (1B/P)The Lady Roos' only all-district first team selection is a college prospect at first base and pitcher. She had the area's fourth-highest batting average (.473) and a .635 slugging percentage.

Riley LathamGatesville, Jr. (3B)She played a little at a lot of infield positions but was good enough at all of them to be one of two Gatesville all-district first-team selections last year as a sophomore.

Kirsten Whiteside Belton, Jr. (2B/SS)She was named the District 12-5A Newcomer of the Year after hitting .511 with 18 runs and 13 RBIs in district play, getting on base at a .566 clip. She is expected to slide over from second base to shortstop this season to replace 2011 Daily Herald MVP Amber Peters.

Alyssa CastroEllison, Sr. (SP, 1B)The senior has been a fixture on the team since her sophomore year and will be pivotal if the Lady Eagles are going to climb out of the 12-5A cellar.

Ashlyn Osborne,Harker Heights, Sr. (SP, SS)A four-year starter, Osborne was one of the few bright spots last season for the Lady Knights after leading the team in average (.407), hits (35) and doubles (11).

Cheyenne HicksSalado, Soph. (SP, SS)Last year's District 25-3A Newcomer of the Year, Hicks hit .494, drove in 28 runs and had eight doubles to help the Lady Eagles nearly reach the playoffs.

March 9: Gatesville at West, 7 p.m. — West enters the season as the No. 3 team in 3A. Gatesville, meanwhile, is looking to again assert its dominance in its second season without former standout Emily Leib, who is now at Temple College.

March 13: A&M Consolidated at Belton, 2 p.m. — Belton won the outright District 12-5A title last season after defeating A&M Consolidated at home. However, one of their two district losses was at Consol.

March 27: San Angelo Lake View at Killeen, 7 p.m. — The Lady Roos struggled last season, but were able to get past Waco University. This season, if they can knock off Lake View, they could sneak into the playoffs.

March 30: Liberty Hill at Lampasas, 7 p.m. — Last season, the Lady Panthers won the District 25-3A title, after the Lady Badgers failed to get in a rhythm in district and had to defeat Taylor for the last playoff spot. This season the two should again battle for the district crown.

April 3: Temple at Belton, 7 p.m. — Temple again figures to be in the District 12-5A race along with Consolidated and Belton. The winner of this old rivalry could have the inside track on the 12-5A title.

April 5: Lorena at Gatesville, 7 p.m. — Lorena is ranked just outside the top 20 in 3A, garnering an honorable mention. The Leopards and Hornets winner should go a long way in determining the District 19-3A title.

April 9: Copperas Cove at Shoemaker, 7 p.m. — Both teams went 5-9 in District 12-5A last season and would like to improve on those marks.

April 13: Salado at Lampasas, 7 p.m. — If Salado is going to make a move for the playoffs, they need to knock off one of the top teams. The Lady Eagles return nearly their entire team from last season.

Tournaments to watch Gatesville, Ellison, Copperas Cove at Gatesville TournamentGatesville and Harker Heights at Harker Heights TournamentBelton Tournament

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