DEFENDING THEIR TURF: Sharp defense, Shadrick's pitching help Belton defeat Cove 5-1 in 12-6A opener
Updated: Mar 18
GOING THE DISTANCE: Senior right-hander Brady Shadrick pitched a complete game with seven strikeouts to help Belton beat Copperas Cove 5-1 in the District 12-6A opener for both teams Tuesday night at Tiger Field. Shadrick (4-0) scattered seven hits and received plenty of support from his defense as he recorded his fourth win in four starts this season. Cooper Babcock, Jacob Estrada, Scott Gurnett and TJ Johnson produced two-hit games for coach Mark Krueger's Tigers (11-2-1), who will continue 12-6A play at Bryan at 7 p.m. Friday. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
BELTON – Brady Shadrick missed plenty of Copperas Cove bats on a breezy Tuesday night at Tiger Field as Belton's senior right-handed starting pitcher mixed fastballs and curveballs to record seven strikeouts in the District 12-6A baseball opener for both teams.
However, what Shadrick really enjoys doing is watching the Tigers' other eight defensive players work.
“My defense is so good. We had great plays from (Aaron) Bain in left field, Keagan (Wolfe) in center, Josh (Westbrook) at third base making great plays . . . all over,” Shadrick said. “If they hit the ball, they're making the play. (Cove) barreled up a few balls, but our guys are fast and they make the play. When you've got a defense as good as I do behind me, throwing strikes makes it easy.”
That's proven to be a successful formula both for Shadrick and his Tigers. He's started four games this season and has produced a 4-0 record for Belton (11-2-1).
Shadrick and Copperas Cove senior righty Dekan Radigan were locked in a pitchers' duel for 5½ innings, but some ill-timed defensive breakdowns by the Bulldawgs and run-scoring doubles from Ben Jones and TJ Johnson helped Belton break open a close battle with a three-run sixth before Shadrick threw a perfect seventh to secure the Tigers' 5-1 victory.
“He did a great job for us tonight. He threw strikes, kept them off-balance and let our defense play,” Belton fifth-year head coach Mark Krueger said about Shadrick's performance, which was aided by Belton's error-free defense. “For our season (outlook), we look at good pitching and playing defense, and we think that if we can do those two things, we can win a lot of ballgames.”
Shadrick already had defeated Georgetown East View, Austin Regents and Denton in the Round Rock, Austin ISD and Richardson Lake Highlands tournaments, respectively, so Krueger was confident that the 6-foot-1, 170-pound senior was the right choice to take the mound for Belton's 12-6A opener.
Shadrick allowed seven hits and walked one batter against Cove (9-9), which seized a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning. Shadrick's 93-pitch complete game might not have been his most dominant outing this season, but he certainly gave the Tigers what they needed.
“I wouldn't say it was his best of the year. He's had some great performances along the way in our tournament games, and he's separated himself from the other guys to be our (No. 1) guy who we can run out there,” said Krueger, whose squad went 3-0-1 at last weekend's Lake Highlands tournament. “That's why he had the ball in our district opener, no doubt.”
BRINGING IT: Belton senior Brady Shadrick delivers a pitch to Copperas Cove batter Dylan Martinez during the first inning of the Tigers' 5-1 win over the Bulldawgs in Tuesday night's District 12-6A opener at Tiger Field. Shadrick (4-0) allowed two hits and a run in the first inning but then fired six scoreless frames and finished with seven strikeouts in a complete game to help Belton improve its record to 11-2-1. Cove fell to 9-9 overall. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
Cove second-year head coach Bryant Lopez and the Bulldawgs got a effective pitching performance from Radigan (2-2), who racked up eight strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings and never trailed until Wolfe's groundout drove in Johnson in the fifth. The Tigers eventually forced Radigan out of the game with one out in the sixth after he allowed singles to Cooper Babcock and Jacob Estrada and RBI doubles to Jones and Johnson, giving Belton a commanding 5-1 lead.
Despite the outcome, Lopez liked what he saw from Radigan, who mixed his fastball and breaking ball to give the Tigers problems for much of the evening.
“The fact that he was able to throw his off-speed pitch for strikes at any given count (was important),” Lopez said about Radigan, who permitted 10 hits and threw 107 pitches before catcher Russel Cochran relieved him with one out in Belton's big sixth. “He's emerged as our (top) starter because he can throw both of his pitches for strikes in any count.”
The Bulldawgs drew first blood in the 12-6A opener. Texas Tech-committed junior shortstop Travis Sanders ripped Shadrick's first pitch into left field for a single, then Jace Johnson's sacrifice bunt moved him to second base before Shadrick struck out Dylan Martinez looking with a slider for the second out.
Cochran then hit a hard grounder up the middle that senior shortstop Jones stopped with a diving stab before rushing to get up and make a hurried throw to first. The field umpire ruled Cochran safe – Krueger came out to argue the call – on an extremely close play and the speedy Sanders never stopped running, racing around third and scoring for a 1-0 Cove lead before a Shadrick fastball struck out David Cimmino.
Belton responded in its first at-bat. Leading off, senior second baseman Scott Gurnett singled over the first baseman's head and went to second on Wolfe's groundout. After a Radigan curve struck out Caleb Alexander looking, senior catcher Babcock roped a two-out single to center to drive in Gurnett for a 1-1 deadlock.
Cove was primed to regain the lead when Radigan began the second with a double off the wall in right-center. A sacrifice bunt by Caden Harris advanced Radigan's courtesy runner to third, but the runner's turn was too aggressive and first baseman Alexander – who had tagged Harris out – alertly threw a strike to third baseman Westbrook, who tagged out the wayward runner for a 3-5 double play.
The Bulldawgs threatened again in the third. Antonio Espinoza ripped a leadoff single and Sanders walked, but Shadrick made a key play when he fielded Jace Johnson's attempted sacrifice bunt and fired to Westbrook at third to get the force out on a close play. A wild pitch sent Sanders to third with one out, but Shadrick fielded Martinez's comebacker and the Tigers trapped Sanders in a rundown before tagging him out. Shadrick then stranded Johnson at third when Cochran grounded into a force.
In Cove's fourth, Radigan launched a long fly ball to left, into the teeth of the strong wind. It might have sailed over the tall wall for a solo home run on another night, but the breeze kept it in the ballpark and junior left fielder Bain sprinted back and toward the line and made a skillful running catch to help Shadrick post his first 1-2-3 inning of the night.
Belton made a bid to take its first lead in the fourth when Alexander rocked a leadoff double to right and Babcock walked. Radigan then struck out Bain with a fastball and Jones with a slider, but designated hitter Estrada scorched a two-out single to right. Harris charged the ball quickly and made such a strong throw home that Alexander couldn't even try to score after he made a big turn at third. He got caught in a rundown and Cochran tagged him for the third out, preserving the 1-1 tie.
The Tigers used more sharp defense to prevent the Bulldawgs from moving ahead in the fifth. Espinoza lined a one-out single and moved to second when a Sanders dribbler went for an infield single. Shadrick struck out Jace Johnson with a curve but then allowed Martinez's sharp single to left. Hungry for Cove to grab the lead, third base coach Lopez gambled with two outs by waving Espinoza home and challenging Bain to throw him out.
Bain charged to field the ball and delivered a perfect one-hop strike to the waiting Babcock, who had plenty of time to tag out Espinoza before taking a tumble and showing the ball to the plate umpire before the Tigers celebrated the inning-ending defensive gem.
“I waved a runner on with two outs, and I just wanted to make something happen. It's been a tied game, and what they had to do was make a good play, and that's what they did,” Lopez said. “They had to throw a strike, and they did. With two outs, that's the play. It's a tough decision, because our 4-hole hitter (Cochran) was coming up next, but you take your chance.”
YOU'RE OUTTA THERE: Belton senior catcher Cooper Babcock shows the baseball to the home plate umpire after taking a tumble while tagging out Copperas Cove runner Antonio Espinoza during the fifth inning of the Tigers' 5-1 win over the Bulldawgs in Tuesday night's District 12-6A opener at Tiger Field. With the score tied 1-1, Espinoza was trying to score the go-ahead run on Dylan Martinez's two-out single, but the throw by Belton junior left fielder Aaron Bain was accurate and in time to cut down Espinoza at the plate and preserve the tie. Tigers senior pitcher Brady Shadrick (right) backs up home on the play. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
With that boost of momentum, Belton finally broke through in the fifth to take its first lead – with some help from Cove's defense. The 6-6 junior star for Belton's playoff basketball team, TJ Johnson started the inning by lining a single to right and he coasted into second after Harris let the ball get under his glove.
After Shadrick struck out, Gurnett beat out a soft liner for an infield single, giving the Tigers runners at the corners with one out. Wolfe, a Mary Hardin-Baylor commitment, grounded out to Sanders at shorstop but produced the go-ahead RBI as Johnson scored on the play for a 2-1 Belton advantage.
The Tigers continued to support Shadrick by flashing even more outstanding defense in the sixth. Wolfe sprinted back to the wall in center to catch the leadoff blast of Cochran, who tipped his helmet to Wolfe as he jogged back to Cove's dugout. Right fielder Johnson then made an on-the-run catch of Cimmino's fly ball near the foul line before a Shadrick curve struck out Radigan.
Belton proceeded to gain important separation with its three-run uprising in the sixth.
Babcock's leadoff infield single was followed by a Bain strikeout, but Jones – who along with Gurnett is committed to East Texas Baptist – sliced a ringing double to right that sailed over the head of Harris, who took a less-than-ideal angle to the ball. Babcock's courtesy runner, sophomore Mason Ramm, raced around to score, and Jones ran toward third as Sanders couldn't corral the incoming throw. And when first baseman Martinez's high throw airmailed third and skidded into foul territory, Jones dashed home for a 4-1 Tigers advantage.
“Obviously at the end we kicked the ball around in the outfield,” Lopez said. “Those two balls that were hit to (Harris), they hit them 100 miles an hour and they did a good job staying behind those balls. But we've got to be able to handle those balls.”
BULLDAWG BREAKDOWN BOOSTS BELTON: Senior Ben Jones (left, in red helmet) is greeted by Belton teammates after scoring during the fifth inning of the Tigers' 5-1 win over Copperas Cove in Tuesday night's District 12-6A opener at Tiger Field. Jones hit a double to right field to drive in a run, took third base on the Bulldawgs' throw into the infield and scored on the play when the first baseman's throw sailed over third base for an error. Junior TJ Johnson added an RBI double to complete Belton's three-run fifth inning. Cove players looking on are catcher Russel Cochran and pitcher Dekan Radigan (right). (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
After Estrada singled to right, Johnson clobbered a sizzling double to right-center that drove in pinch runner Jason Bonnett to make it 5-1 and chase Radigan before Cochran recorded the final two outs.
With a complete game and district-opening win in sight, Shadrick gave Cove no hope of a comeback in the seventh. He got Harris to line out softly to Gurnett and struck out pinch hitter Collin Sparks with a slider before Espizona grounded out to Westbrook to seal Belton's win.
“We're having fun. We have a great team and we're excited about this year. It's just great to be a part of it and great to pitch and help us win,” Shadrick said before he discussed what the Tigers still need to improve upon as they pursue the 12-6A championship. “We'll get the bats going. We have guys who can hit that maybe aren't hitting great yet. But once we get everything together, the team chemistry and team unity is better than any team I've ever had before, so we're going to clean some things up and be a really good team.”
And after Belton's 2020 campaign was stopped short last March because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Shadrick and his teammates are making sure to savor all of the experiences that this season has to offer.
“We've all played together all our lives, and last year getting cut short was hard on a lot of us who were juniors last year and seniors this year,” Shadrick said. “So we're hungry and that's pushing us even more. This is our final ride.”
Belton's first 12-6A road test comes Friday when Tigers travel to play Bryan – which lost its league opener 8-1 at Temple on Tuesday – at 7 p.m. Belton will host Harker Heights at 7 p.m. next Tuesday.
HIGH SCHOOL BASEBALL
Belton 5, Copperas Cove 1
Cove 100 000 0 – 1 7 2
Belton 100 013 X – 5 10 0
Highlights – B: Shadrick seven strikeouts in complete game, earns fourth win in four starts this season; Babcock 2-for-2, run batted in; Johnson 2-for-3, RBI, run; Jacob Estrada 2-for-3; Scott Gurnett 2-for-4, run; Keagan Wolfe go-ahead RBI groundout in sixth; Jones RBI double in sixth; C: Radigan eight strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings; Sanders 2-for-2, run; Antonio Espinoza 2-for-3; Cochran RBI single.
Records – Belton 11-2-1 overall, 1-0 in District 12-6A; Copperas Cove 9-9, 0-1.
Note – Belton wins 12-6A opener, plays at Bryan (0-1 in 12-6A) at 7 p.m. Friday.