The Brownwood Lady Lions and Burkburnett Lady Bulldogs square off in the Region I-4A bi-district round of the playoffs for the second year in a row — and this time there is no room for error.
Brownwood dropped Game 1 of a best-of-three opening round series to Burkburnett, 4-1, last season only to rally with victories of 1-0 and 9-2 to advance to the second round.
This year, however, District 5-4A tri-champion Brownwood (19-6-1) and 6-4A third seed Burkburnett (17-10) will play just once — at 7 p.m. Thursday at Graford — with the winner moving on to area.
“With one game you have to come out ready to go, you don't have another two to rely on to come back,” said Lady Lions head coach Jessica Lynn, whose team dropped the first game in each of its three postseason series a year ago. “It's all or nothing so the girls have to come out from the first inning, try and get a lead real quick and settle into the game and take care of business.”
Burkburnett returns pitcher Jocelyn Bright, who tossed a no-hitter in Game 1 and allowed a total of one run through the first two games last year.
“She was a lot better than everyone had told us, so we were a little caught off guard,” Lynn said. “She throws hard and has a good rise ball, so our girls will have to be disciplined and make her bring it down in the zone, bring something they can hit.”
In Game 2 of last year's series, Chyanne Ellett answered with a no-hitter of her own.
In her junior campaign, Ellett owns an 18-6 record with one save, a 1.65 ERA, 251 strikeouts, 40 walks and six hit batters over 147.1 innings. In Brownwood's last outing against Snyder, Ellett surpassed 800 career strikeouts.
Heading into the playoffs, Burkburnett has split its last four games, defeating Hirschi (15-0) and Iowa Park (7-0), while falling to Graham (11-1) and Vernon (12-0).
After starting the season 14-3-1, Brownwood has posted a 5-3 mark since the start of the 5-4A schedule.
“Our district is good competition and it was a good eight games to get ready for the playoffs,” Lynn said. “We had to bring our 'A' game because every team seemed to bring their best against us. That gets you ready for the playoffs because if you don't bring your 'A' game in the playoffs more than likely you're going to get beat. Some days you're not going to be at your best and those are the games we lost. The girls have to come out ready to go, ready to make plays and hopefully we'll get a win on Thursday.”
The Lady Lions carry a .357 team batting average into the playoffs, along with a .431 on-base percentage, and average 6.8 runs per outing. Brownwood has recorded 66 extra-base hits, including 10 home runs. Leading hitters include Annie Gillispie (.483, HR, 22 RBIs, eight doubles, three triples), Ryleigh Dalleh (.458, 10 RBIs, six doubles), Ayanna Clemons (.414, 2 HRs, 17 RBIs, six doubles), Ashlynn Patteson (.407, 22 RBIs, nine doubles), Aubrie Harris (.354, 15 RBIs), Yisel Mendoza (.308, HR, 16 RBIs, six doubles), Ellett (.300, 4 HRs, 16 RBIs), Mya McDowell (.271, HR, 10 RBIs) and Landry Holden (.271, 16 RBIs).
Being disciplined at the plate and sharp in the field — where the Lady Lions have been plagued with inconsistency, particularly in district play — are the biggest keys to a Brownwood victory, Lynn said.
“We have to lay off the rise ball because she's going to want to get you to chase it,” Lynn said. “We also have to make routine plays, make good throws, and be smart on the bases. We need to have a good game all-around, but mainly it's going to start at the plate and not chasing her best pitch.”