In their quest to end a two-year postseason drought, the Brownwood Lions collected perhaps their most crucial victory of the 2017 campaign Tuesday night at Morris Southall Field — and needed an extra inning to do it.
Gavon Clemons’ two-out RBI double just over the third base bag plated Grant Fanara with the decisive run in the bottom of eighth inning, as the Lions moved back into sole possession of second place in the District 5-4A baseball standings with a 4-3 walkoff victory over the Snyder Tigers.
The win avenged a 6-5 walkoff loss at Snyder on March 31, and moved the Lions (12-9, 3-3) a game and half ahead of the fifth-place Tigers (11-12, 2-5) with one full week left in the regular season. The top four teams advance to the playoffs.
“The way it sets up right now, tonight was a very important win,” said Lions first-year head coach Blandon Hancock. “We’ll have to wait to see Friday how the standings shake out, but it was a very big win.”
Defending state champion and second-ranked Abilene Wylie (22-1, 6-0) visits Brownwood at 7 p.m. Friday in the home finale.
The Lions let a 3-2 lead slip away in the top of the seventh inning as, with two outs, Aaron Escobedo’s RBI single off reliever Hayden Donahoo landed in front of Hunter Leonard and scored Matt Bass, who walked against Rylan Reagan with one out and advanced to third on a pair of passed balls.
Donahoo came back in the eighth inning and retired the Tigers in order with a pair of strikeouts and a grounder to Clemons at third base. Donahoo picked up the win, allowing an inherited runner to score while surrendering just one hit and fanning two in 1.2 innings.
“Hayden is one of the biggest competitors we have,” Hancock said. “He’s a middle linebacker on the football field and has that kind of mentality in baseball. The kids riled him up a little bit before he went out and made him a little angry. He’s the type of kid that when he gets angry he gets better. You could see it on the mound, the want-to, the drive and the competitive nature he has.”
In the bottom of the eighth, Fanara led off with a single then moved to third base despite a pair of strikeouts by relief pitcher Jake Chavez. Facing an 0-1 count and the prospect of a ninth inning, Clemons delivered the game-winning extra-base hit.
“He’s a great kid with a great work ethic that’s been struggling a bit lately, but he always has confidence,” Hancock said of Clemons. “He can really hit the ball when he gets his mechanics down, and what a big hit tonight.”
The Lions trailed 2-0 after half-an-inning as Chavez singled home Jarrett Reneau, who reached on a dropped third strike, and Brody Jasso singled home Chavez. From that point on, Reagan allowed just one run on two hits and finished with 10 strikeouts and four walks.
“Rylan has been going good for us but about the fourth inning his mechanics waver on him and he struggles a little bit,” Hancock said. “You could tell there was something different tonight and I told him after the game ‘way to go out there and pitch the way we know you know how to pitch.’ He battled, stuck it out and did a great job.”
Brownwood cut Snyder’s lead in half, 2-1, in the bottom of the fourth as Leonard led off with a triple to right-center field and scored on a passed ball during Reagan’s at-bat.
The Lions then took the lead in the fifth as Cain Kittrell and Blaine Hughes both walked with two outs ahead off a bloop two-RBI triple down the right field line by Fanara.
“Grant’s been our three hole hitter, which is usually one of best hitters on the team, the guy that comes through in big situations when the spotlight is on,” Hancock said. “So I expect nothing less.”