Following a 3-6 start to the season, the Brownwood Lions couldn’t have asked to be in a better position heading into the District 5-4A baseball opener next week.
First-year head coach Blandon Hancock’s squad increased its win streak to six games by sweeping a doubleheader from the Bridgeport Bulls, 8-3 and 10-0, Thursday afternoon at Morris Southall Field. The next action for the Lions (9-6) comes Friday, March 24 when Big Spring visits in the league opener.
“We’re really comfortable at the plate and that’s a big part of it,” Hancock said of the Lions’ win streak, as Brownwood produced 18 runs in 12 trips to the plate Thursday. “We’re putting a lot of pressure on defenses and scoring lots of runs. In essence, that helps with our pitchers because they don’t have to go up there and worry about striking people out. They just go up there and try and fill up the strike zone and let our defense play.”
The Lions’ most dominant performance came in the nightcap as Hayden Donahoo and Caleb Hernandez combined to toss a three-hit shutout. Donahoo got the start and the win, working 4.2 innings and with three hits and five walks allowed, while tallying three strikeouts. Hernandez recorded the final four outs without allowing a base runner.
“I wasn’t sure if I was going to throw Donahoo because he’s probably going to be our second guy in district,” Hancock said. “He’s also a contact guy and the first game Bridgeport put the ball in play quite a bit. I didn’t know if I wanted to mismatch them with Caleb, but I stuck with Donahoo because he’s a been a grinder all year and hasn’t given up many walks. He throws for contact, gets out and did a dang good job.
“Caleb also did a good job coming in and cleaning up both games. I know I can always count on him. He’s my ace in the hole in the dugout at any time.”
Offensively, the Lions’ 11-hit attack was sparked by Hunter Leonard, who finished 3-for-4 with a pair of home runs, a double and four RBIs. Leonard — whose second blast ended the game via the 10-run mercy rule — now has six home runs on the season, and three in three games at Morris Southall Field.
“He’s really bought into the approach we’ve taken as a group hitting,” Hancock said of Leonard. “He’s calm at the plate, has a lot of confidence and is really tearing the cover off the ball.”
Other Brownwood offensive standouts included Grant Fanara with a single, double and two runs scored; Rylan Reagan with a double and an RBI; Grayson Swanzy and Cain Kittrell each with a single and an RBI; Harley Price and Gavon Clemons with one hit and one run scored apiece; and Blaine Hughes with a hit.
The Lions tallied a single run in the first inning as Reagan doubled home Fanara, who reached on a one-out single.
Brownwood stretched its advantage to 6-0 in the third inning as Fanara led off with a double and scored when Donahoo reached on error. Leonard followed with a two-out, two-run shot to left field that scored himself and Caydon Vara, courtesy-running for Donahoo. Price followed with a double to right field then Swanzy reached on an infield dribbler. Swanzy then stole second base and Price came home from third on the back end following an errant throw. Kittrell then laced an RBI single into left field that brought home Swanzy with the sixth run.
The Lions scored three more times in the fourth as Reagan started the inning by being hit by a pitch and Clemons singled with one out. Leonard followed with an RBI double to center field that plated Reagan. Clemons then scored on an RBI fielder’s choice by Swanzy, while Leonard also came home as Bridgeport threw the ball away attempting a double play.
After a scoreless fifth, Leonard ended the game with one out in the bottom of the sixth as he launched another long ball over the wall.
In Thursday’s opener, the Lions jumped out to a 3-0 lead, witnessed Bridgeport close the gap to 3-2, then tallied five of the game’s final six runs.
“That’s kind of how this whole streak has gone,” Hancock said. “We’ll jump out to an early lead then go through the motions a little bit. But the kids have done a good job adjusting and overcoming people scoring some runs on us. However many they score on us, we know we have to get those back. When anybody scores we’ve come back and answered, and that’s been a big part of this streak.”
The Lions also overcame five errors by amassing 13 hits — four from Fanara, who drove in one and scored twice; three from Swanzy, who scored three times; two from Hughes, who crossed the plate twice and knocked in a run; and one hit apiece from Price, Leonard, Donahoo and Reagan, who tallied an RBI.
On the mound, Reagan worked six innings to notch the win, yielding three runs — two earned — on four hits with three strikeouts and three walks. Hernandez pitched a perfect seventh for the Lions.
Clinging to a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the fourth, the Lions answered with two runs of their own. An RBI ground out by Kittrell plated Price, who reached on a one-out walk, then Hughes reached on a two-out error that plated Swanzy, who had singled to left field to reach base.
Bridgeport closed the gap to 5-3 in the top of the sixth but the Lions iced the contest with three runs in the bottom of the frame.
With one out, Hughes singled home Swanzy, who led off the frame with a base hit and a stolen base. Fanara followed with an RBI double that plated Hughes, while Reagan doubled home Fanara with the final run.
The Lions grabbed a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first as Hughes and Fanara, who both singled, scored when Clemons reached base after a dropped third strike and an errant throw.
Brownwood stretched the lead to 3-0 in the second when Swanzy, who singled, scored after Kittrell reached on one of Bridgeport’s five errors.
The Bulls crept within 3-2 in the top of the fourth and had the bases loaded with one out, but Reagan escaped the jam with a ground out to Fanara at third base, who came home for the force out, and a soft line drive to Fanara.
The Lions never trailed at any point Thursday.