PRIMED FOR THE PLAYOFFS: After strong run in 12-6A, Belton starts postseason with Mansfield series
BRINGING IT: Belton's TJ Johnson delivers a pitch against Duncanville in a Class 6A bi-district playoff game on May 7, 2021 at Belton. After finishing second to Bryan in District 12-6A this season, senior right-hander Johnson and the Tigers (16-8-1) begin postseason play with a best-of-three series against Mansfield (15-12-1) at 7 p.m. Friday at Tidwell Field. Game 2 is set for 2 p.m. Saturday at Mansfield, with a third game to follow if necessary. The 6-foot-6 Johnson blasted two home runs against Killeen Shoemaker in Belton's final home game of the regular season. (File photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
BELTON – The Belton baseball team put together a strong season in District 12-6A competition, going 12-2 to take second place behind undefeated champion Bryan.
Now the Tigers seek to extend their success in the Class 6A state playoffs, beginning with a best-of-three bi-district series against Mansfield.
Belton (16-8-1) will host Mansfield (15-12-1) in Game 1 at 7 p.m. Friday at Tidwell Field. On Saturday the series will shift to Mansfield for Game 2 at 2 p.m. If necessary, Game 3 will begin 30 minutes after the conclusion of Game 2.
The Belton-Mansfield winner will advance to next week’s area round to play 9-6A champion Garland Naaman Forest (20-8) or 10-6A No. 4 seed Mesquite (12-11-1).
The Tigers of sixth-year head coach Mark Krueger went 12-0 against 12-6A teams not named Bryan. The No. 14-ranked Vikings won 18-2 at Belton on March 18, then on April 12 Belton took a no-hitter into the sixth inning before host Bryan – which allowed only one hit – scratched out a 1-0 victory.
Belton carries positive momentum into the playoffs. Senior TJ Johnson’s two home runs and senior Jacob Estrada’s four runs batted in propelled the Tigers to a 13-3 win over Killeen Shoemaker in their district home finale April 26.
Last Friday, Belton completed league action with a 5-0 victory at Killeen as left-handed pitcher Estrada had a no-hitter for 6 2/3 innings before the Kangaroos’ Jack Mellon singled with two outs in the seventh. Estrada finished with 10 strikeouts.
Johnson, a 6-foot-6 right-hander who’s signed to play NCAA Division I basketball at Lipscomb (Tenn.), also is a go-to starting pitcher for Belton. Belton’s lineup also has gotten strong contributions from Aaron Bain, Tanner Conroy, Caleb Lamm, Mason Ramm, Jackson Shirkey, Tyler Tingle and Josh Westbrook.
Krueger recorded his 100th career head coaching win April 22 against Killeen Ellison.
Mansfield carries a three-game winning streak into the playoffs after finishing in third place in 11-6A, behind champion Waco Midway – coached by former Belton head coach Eddie Cornblum – and Mansfield Lake Ridge. Mansfield went 0-2 against Midway and 1-1 against Lake Ridge.
Belton is aiming to advance to the area round for the second straight season. Last year, the 12-6A champion and No. 6-ranked Tigers swept bi-district opponent Duncanville before Garland Sachse defeated Belton in a best-of-three area series that went the distance.