After reaching the Class 4A state softball tournament in 2016, the Brownwood Lady Lions fell short in their attempt to duplicate that feat last season. But with a solid nucleus still intact from both seasons, the Lady Lions again are setting their sights on Austin.

The Lady Lions’ campaign officially begins Tuesday with a trip to Class 6A Keller Central, followed by Friday and Saturday dates at the Eastland tournament.

“They know they have the potential to get there if it all plays out right,” Lady Lions head coach Jessica Lynn said of the team’s goal to return to the state tournament. “And that helps them to come out each and every day and work hard because they know what they’re capable of. They’ve set those high goals for themselves, goals for a district championship and to get back down (to Austin).”

In five preseason scrimmages the Lady Lions boasted an undefeated record, knocking off Lampasas (5-3), Breckenridge (8-3), Abilene Cooper (5-1), Fort Worth Brewer (10-3) and Brock (3-1).

“I’ve been really impressed with how well we’ve made adjustments to the pitchers we’ve faced, “Lynn said. “We’ve hit all the pitchers pretty well so far, and usually this early in the year we haven’t done as well with that in the past.

“Defensively we’ve been pretty good, but we’ve made a few errors on some basic stuff that I’d like for us to clean up. Overall we’ve done really well, but we still need to work a little more on the mental part of the game, things like base running.”

Junior Chyanne Ellett returns to the circle for the third straight year to lead the Lady Lions, coming off District MVP and Pitcher of the Year campaigns to begin her high school career. A year ago, Ellett posted an 18-7 record in the circle with a 1.38 ERA, 299 strikeouts and 76 walks in 162.2 innings pitched. At the plate, she batted a team-best .406 with two home runs and 21 RBIs.

Other returnees include first-team all-district third baseman Ayanna Clemons, who batted .361, third-best on the team, with a team-high 30 runs scored and 12 doubles to go along with 20 RBIs; second-team second baseman Annie Gillispie, who finished with a .283 batting average, one home run, 14 RBIs and crossed the plate 20 times; and honorable mention catcher Ashlynn Patteson, who homered twice, drove in 19 RBIs, scored 24 runs and finished with a .337 batting average.

Ryleigh Dalleh and Karly Harper also return and are expected to see expanded workloads this season.

Following their initial week of action, the Lady Lions round out their non-district slate by competing in tournaments in Abilene and Graham along with outings against Eastland, Clyde, Anson and Midland Christian.

“I want to see us continue to work hard, learn from our mistakes and improve on all the little things,” Lynn said. “We also have some new girls and we want to get their nerves out of the way and make sure they are improving every day. I want to see us put it all together, get a feel for each other and develop team chemistry.”

As for the District 5-4A race, most of the teams in the league are overhauling their pitching staffs which could bode well for the Lady Lions.

“I know Wylie lost their main pitcher but they had two others that were pretty decent that pitched in district, just not against us,” Lynn said. “Snyder lost both of theirs, Big Spring does return their pitcher and I’m not sure about Sweetwater. But it should be another tough, competitive district.”

District 5-4A action begins March 13 at Abilene Wylie followed by a home game with Sweetwater (March 16), a road date at Big Spring (March 23) and then Snyder visits (March 27) to wrap up the first half of league play. The second half begins at home March 29 against Wylie followed by a trip to Sweetwater (April 3), the home finale against Big Spring (April 13) and the regular season finale at Snyder (April 17).

“I hope we’ll be hitting our stride at district,” Lynn said. “Winning a district championship is a reachable goal as long as Chyanne stays healthy, our defense is solid and our hitting stays consistent. It’s very possible to win district and make a good run in the playoffs.”