Coming off a 20-13 campaign and runner-up finish in 8-3A last year, new head coach Herb Rios will attempt to push the Brownwood Lions toward a district championship as baseball season kicks off Monday.

Rios, who has 182 career wins to his credit in stops at 3A, 4A and 5A programs, guided Seminole to a 17-10 overall record last season. To prepare the Lions for what awaits them in district, Rios has pieced together perhaps the most grueling schedule of his two-decade career.

“In 20 years of coaching, this is probably the toughest schedule before district I’ve been a part of,” Rios said. “We’re playing some tremendous talent. We’re going to the Plano tournament and playing some 5A schools and private schools, then we’ll got to the West and Waco Robinson tournament and play both of them, who are ranked in the Top 10, as well as Lubbock Cooper, who is also in the Top 10. Then we end with the Hill Country Classic in Llano right before district, and that includes Liberty Hill, Lampasas and Llano. We’ll know where we stand before district. We ought to have a pretty good idea who the guys are we can lean on most.”

The Lions’ first game of the season is slated for 7 p.m. Monday at Graham. Brownwood plays only once at home before the start of district action, when Abilene Wylie visits on March 4. District 8-3A competition begins March 18 with a visit from reigning district champion Liberty Hill.

“Being new here, I’m not real familiar with the teams in this area, but from what I’ve heard they play very good, competitive baseball,” Rios said. “I spoke to all the coaches in the district and Liberty Hill and Burnet are probably the two front-runners, the teams to beat, but we’re excited about the challenge. If these young men continue making progress like we’re making right now and work as they have been, we have the opportunity to be one of the top teams in the district. That’s what we’re shooting for.”

Following scrimmages against Abilene High and Marble Falls, Rios has witnessed some positives, as well as some areas of concern.

“We have a lot of unanswered questions right now,” Rios said. “We still have some competition for some spots going on. We have a lot of arms and a lot of kids who have given us some innings in the scrimmages. We have to get a little better defensively, we’re still struggling with the routine play, but that will get better. Hitting wise, we’ve faced some pretty good pitching staffs and struggled to put the ball in play consistently.

“We’re just trying to find our identity, trying to mesh and trying to get the best combination of kids on the field. But I tend to be a perfectionist in all phases of the game and have very high expectations.”

On the mound, Seth Owen and Justin Osteen return and will be featured as the top two pitchers. Other arms expected to contribute include Carson Cloy, Carson McAnally and Billy Jones, who attended Bangs last season.

Behind the plate, Bradly Durand, Hayden Day and Grant Fanara and currently locked in a battle for playing time.

The infield will likely consist of Trent Carlton at third base, Cojo Guidry at shortstop, Rawlings Rios at second base and either Osteen or Kory Owen at first. In the outfield, McAnally and Salazar have split time in left field as well as center field, along with Seth Owen. Cloy and Jones have received the bulk of the action in right field.

Prior to the start of district action, developing confidence and chemistry are among the primary objectives for Rios.

“Discipline is a big word in my vocabulary as far as our program,” Rios said. “We’re going to be very discipline oriented and very structured. You have to focus on the fundamentals and have to be strong in character to have a chance to succeed in baseball.

“Early in the year kids struggle and baseball is such a tough sport anyhow. It’s a sport where you can fail more than succeed and still be considered a pretty good player. Early on we’re going to make a few errors, but we can’t dwell on them. Once we get through that, we’ll be OK.”