BELTON — Belton softball fans who might have had concerns the Lady Tigers may not be as proficient at the plate or as dominant in the circle because of the addition of a new high school in the district and the departure of longtime coach Matt Blackburn had some of their fears relieved Tuesday night in the Lady Tigers’ 2021 home debut.
Belton was dominant under first-year coach Rachel Reekstin with an 11-1 victory over the Hillsboro Lady Eagles in a game that ended on the 10-run mercy rule in the sixth inning with a home run by Bethany Sherwood.
“It’s new for me, and we wanted to come out and have a good showing first night out,” Reekstin said. “There is nothing more exciting than playing on your home field.”
Reekstin took over the program in the summer after Blackburn, who led the program for 13 years, departed to become the head coach and girls athletic coordinator at newly opened Lake Belton. She previously coached in the college ranks at Concordia Texas and served as an assistant coach at Elgin High last season.
“It’s been a little bit choppy,” said Belton senior catcher Paige Nunes, a four-year varsity player. “There’s little things you notice going from a guy coach to a girl coach. There’s some things done differently than we’ve been used to, having Blackburn here for so long. But I think we’ve handled it pretty well.”
One thing that seemed the same Tuesday night for the Lady Tigers (2-3) was their ability to score runs. Belton averaged 9.3 runs per game the last full season under Blackburn. This year, after being shut out 10-0 by Hewitt Midway in the season opener, the Lady Tigers totaled 30 runs in their four games since.
“I told them to come out and take care of business from the start,” Reekstin said. “That was one of our main goals is that we don’t wait to score, which we’ve been doing. So they came out and dominated from the start.”
After Belton starting pitcher Kaylee Jordan sat down the Lady Eagles (1-5) in order on three strikeouts in the top of the first, the Lady Tigers’ bats went to work.
Leadoff hitter Kaylee Rodriguez got the offense started with a triple to the wall in right field. McKenzie Drake followed with a double to the same spot for a 1-0 lead, and Nunes drove a single to right for a 2-0 advantage. Sherwood singled in Nunes to make it 3-0 before the Lady Eagles finally recorded an out. In all, the Lady Tigers plated five runs in the first.
After scoring a run in each of the second and third innings for a 7-0 lead, Belton added three more in the fourth and led 10-1 heading into the sixth. Nunes grounded out to start the sixth, and Sherwood wasted little time ending it with a line drive shot over the left field wall.
“It was pretty exciting,” Sherwood said. “I wanted to get it over with. I knew Paige struggled right before me, so I wanted to make up for it.”
The early runs made life easy for Belton pitchers. Jordan allowed just one hit through the first three innings. Aizlenn Cavana pitched the fourth and fifth, allowing one run and two hits, and Rachel Bledsoe worked a scoreless sixth.
“All of them were on,” said Nunes, who caught all three. “I feel like there were rarely any moments we gave up hits tonight.
“(The win) feels great, especially how many people contributed. The fact that everyone contributed made it much better.”