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  • Greg Wille

PREPARED FOR THE PLAYOFFS: 22-5A champion Lake Belton, runner-up Belton ready for first-round series

By GREG WILLE


Champion Lake Belton and runner-up Belton dominated the competition in District 22-5A baseball, compiling a combined 26-2 record. The next step for the Broncos and the Tigers is the bi-district round of the Class 5A state playoffs.

Ranked No. 16 in the state, Lake Belton (24-6) begins its best-of-three matchup against 21-5A fourth seed Montgomery (14-15-1) at 7 p.m. Thursday at Mumford, which will host the entire series. Game 2 is at 7 p.m. Friday, with a third game to be played at 1 p.m. Saturday if necessary.

Belton (16-11) will be home at Tidwell Field at 7 p.m. Friday to start its best-of-three series against 21-5A third seed College Station A&M Consolidated (16-10). The scene shifts to A&M Consolidated at 2 p.m. Saturday, with a third game to follow 30 minutes later if needed.

The Lake Belton-Montgomery winner will play 23-5A runner-up Elgin (15-12-1) or 24-5A third seed Austin Crockett (11-10-2) in the area round next week.

The Belton-A&M Consolidated victor will advance to meet 23-5A champion Georgetown (18-12-1) or 24-5A fourth seed Austin Navarro (11-13) next week.

Lake Belton won the 19-4A championship in 2021 and 2022 in its program’s first two years of existence. Rising into the 5A ranks this season, the Broncos of first-year head coach Chris Peacock went 14-0 in league play to capture a third straight district title.

Both Lake Belton and Belton were perfect in 22-5A play entering their showdown series two weeks ago. The visiting Broncos earned a 5-1 win behind the pitching of Temple College signee Mason Gerrard and Air Force commitment Connor Bartz.

In the rematch at Bronco Ballpark three days later, the Tigers of seventh-year head coach Mark Krueger grabbed a 1-0 lead in the first inning on Gage Rinehart’s RBI single. Junior right-hander Easton Drake stymied Lake Belton until the sixth, when Bartz’s RBI double created a 1-1 tie.

Broncos junior righty Mason Law had 13 strikeouts in seven-plus innings before Bartz relieved him in the eighth and struck out five in three innings. Lake Belton never led the game until it was over. Facing Tigers reliever Reese Rumfield, Peyton Flanagan flared a single to right field over a drawn-in infield to drive in Clint Beck for a dramatic 2-1 walk-off victory.

That series sweep clinched at least a share of the district crown and the No. 1 playoff seed for Lake Belton, and the Broncos punctuated their unbeaten run with two run-rule wins against Killeen Ellison.

Lake Belton’s leading players include Brandon Bell, Peanut Brazzle, Tyler Junior College signee Ty Jackson, Malaki McGehee, Bartz, Beck, Davis, Flanagan, Gerrard and Law.

Meanwhile, Belton responded last week by beating playoff qualifier Killeen 5-0 – Caleb Kennedy pitched a shutout – and 10-4 to finish 12-2 in district play.

The Tigers’ top performers include Drake, Kennedy, Rinehart, Rumfield, Brandon Anderson, Jayden Hernandez, Trap Johnson, Brian Little, Jacob Quigley and Mason Ramm.

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