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"We are starting from scratch:" Lake Belton shines despite youth, inexperience

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Posted at 10:54 PM, May 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-10 23:54:39-04

BELTON, Texas — In just its first school year, Lake Belton High School's baseball and softball programs are poised for deep playoff runs, despite being filled with only freshmen and sophomores.

When Lake Belton was founded, it split the rising freshman and sophomore classes in Belton ISD. All of the rising juniors and seniors were able to stay at Belton High School. As a result, the entire new high school was filled with underclassmen, as were its athletics programs.

"I won a few state championships in the past, and I wanted a new challenge," Bronco Head Baseball Coach Cory Beckham said. "Usually, you have three or four years to groom kids into leaders, but here, you don't have that."

Beckham joined the Lake Belton staff from West High School. He said he watched his new players compete over the summer and knew there was a chance they could be successful right away.

"I actually expected this," he said. "I really expected them to compete for a district championship. That was our goal and that's what I told them. I had a lot of confidence in them heading into the playoffs."

Mission accomplished.

Lake Belton wrapped up a district championship before obliterating Manor New Tech in the bi-district round of the playoffs.

Their classmates on the other side of their new athletics complex have seen a similar level of success. Lake Belton's softball team also won a district championship in its first season.

"We know that we can get out of any situation we have," Bronco freshman Casey Shultz said. "Even if we're losing or winning, we're up on our toes, ready, loud in the dugout. We're just excited to play and want to play."

Head Coach Matt Blackburn moved to Lake Belton after a successful stint at Belton High School. He said he wanted the opportunity to establish a program and build a new culture all on his own.

"I tell the kids it will be here long after we're gone," Blackburn said. "What we do every day is gonna ingrain that into what people expect out of Lake Belton Softball."

If this season sets expectations, future teams are in trouble.

Already, Lake Belton has won a district title and swept through the first two rounds of the Class 4A tournament, including a dominant 2-0 sweep of Robinson in the Area Round.

"We have a saying out here that it's only fun if we win," Blackburn said. We come to work every day for practice and games are no different."

If you ask the players on either team, they will tell you they do not think their youth or inexperience are a detriment. In fact, they believe it could be an advantage.

"We are so young, we can turn the page quick and just don't really care," Lake Belton Baseball Sophomore Connor Crews said. "We have a chip on our shoulder and we're just always ready to execute."

Blackburn added that, typically, seniors tend to become more lethargic as their high school careers come to an end, while they count down the days for their classes to finish.

These players, by contrast, have shown a youthful exuberance, unencumbered by age.

"They understand me and we just understand each other," Shultz said of her teammates. "Our chemistry is just there. We didn't have to form anything because we're so close in age and easy to get along with."

The weight of their accomplishments is not lost on the young athletes, who have bought in to the school's motto of "212," the boiling point of water.

"We want to push it one degree further," Crews said. "For baseball, it's the same way. We win, we push. We get better."

Crews, Shultz and baseball sophomore Ty Jackson have emerged as team leaders despite their young age.

"I think being able to buld up something that's never happened before and being able to start a tradition here is nice. We're starting from scratch," Jackson said.

Lake Belton Baseball will try to keep their historic first season going at least one more week when they take on Jasper for a spot in the Regional Quarterfinals. The Bronco Softball team will play Smithville for a spot in the Regional Semifinals.