ABILENE — Three outs away from their first postseason victory since 2013, the Brownwood Lions baseball season instead came to an end in the Region I-4A bi-district round of the playoffs after falling to Vernon, 5-4, in eight innings Saturday night.
With both teams evenly matched, Brownwood coach Blandon Hancock said the game came down to which team made the last mistake and, unfortunately for the Lions (17-11) that mistake came in the bottom of the eighth inning, when a botched double play allowed Vernon (14-9-2) to score a game-winning run and advance.
“That’s the game of baseball and that’s how it is,” Hancock said. “You have to make plays when you need plays and sometimes it’s just not there and there is nothing you can do about that. The effort, the competitiveness, everything is there, but that’s just baseball.”
Brownwood jumped out to an early lead in the top of the first as Cain Kittrell walked and moved to third on a double by Grayson Swanzy. Hunter Leonard’s RBI ground out drove in Cain Kittrell, but Vernon’s standout pitcher Chad Thomas settled in at that point and retired nine Lions in a row.
“He throws across his body. He was actually throwing a fastball that comes off at a weird angle,” Hancock said of Thomas. “That’s why it looked like a change-up that falls off the table. It’s more like a two-seemer that runs. He did a great job. We put a scout on him and we knew exactly what he was throwing and when he was throwing it, but he was just that good tonight.”
Vernon tied the game on an RBI single by Thomas, then took the lead in the fifth on an RBI double by outfielder Brayden Williams. With Thomas getting high in the pitch-count, Vernon coaches opted him to the outfield and Brownwood quickly took advantage. Kittrell led off the sixth inning with a single, then put himself in scoring position after stealing second. An RBI single by Swanzy plated Kittrell, then Rylan Reagan, who pitched and played multiple positions in the infield, drove in Swanzy and Caleb Hernandez to give Brownwood a 4-2 lead.
Facing elimination with one out in the seventh, another RBI double by Thomas pulled Vernon within a run, then a two-out dropped ball on a line-drive to center field allowed Vernon to tie the game 4-4 before Kittrell brought the inning to a halt with a play at the plate, sending the game into extra innings.
“They tied it up on a freak play,” Hancock said. “A.J. McCarty caught the ball and was sliding in, but he hit the ground and the ball came out. That is when you know it’s not your night, when freak things like that happen. If he catches that ball we win 4-3.”
With most of the Brownwood roster returning for the 2019 season, Hancock said there is lots to look forward to in the next year.
“We’re still growing. We have a lot of kids coming back next year,” Hancock said. “Of course, we’re going to miss our seniors. They played key roles on our team, but we have double digits coming back … We’re trying to build for the future and keep things rocking and keep things going. Unfortunately, this year we had a ton of injuries we had to battle through and we got some of those guys back tonight. I’m proud of the way they competed after being out for so long. The future is bright. We just need to keep pressing.”