ABILENE — “It was almost like a tale of two teams.”
That's how Brownwood head coach Jessica Lynn summed up the Lady Lions' season-ending 10-1 loss to Vernon Friday at Abilene Christian University's Wells Field in the Region I-4A quarterfinal round of the playoffs.
Leading 1-0 heading to the sixth inning, with just an infield single and one walk allowed and no errors committed, the final two frames became a horror story for Brownwood.
Vernon scored five runs apiece in both the sixth and seventh frames en route to eliminating Brownwood in the third round of the playoffs for the second consecutive season.
“The first five innings were flawless, we played fantastic,” Lynn said. “I'm not really sure what happened the last two innings. We let a few things get to us and it just snowballed on us. But they fought until the very end, I never felt like they gave up.”
Brownwood (22-7-1) struck for the game's first run in the bottom of the fourth as catcher Ashlynn Patteson's two-out double to the left-center field gap was the first hit surrendered by Vernon (22-4) pitcher Jade Guzman.
Instead of pitching to Chyanne Ellett, the Vernon coaching staff opted for a two-out intentional walk to put runners on first and second base. Third baseman Ayanna Clemons made Vernon pay for the free pass with an RBI single into center field that brought home Patteson.
But the Lady Lions mustered just two more hits the rest of the game — bottom of the seventh inning one-out singles by Clemons and right fielder Landry Holden — as Guzman struck out eight and left four base runners stranded.
“(Guzman) kept us off balance and we just couldn't wait back on it,” Lynn said. “She did a good job not letting us get the solid part of the bat on the ball.”
With six outs standing between the Lady Lions and the regional semifinals, the Vernon offense came to life on its third trip through the batting order.
Caitlin Brints' bloop single into shallow right field to start the top of the sixth ended a string of seven consecutive batters retired by Ellett, who yielded 10 runs — all unearned — on eight hits with three strikeouts and a walk. Avery Kinney and Shykerra Fanner then reached on consecutive Brownwood fielding errors to load the sacks with no outs.
Lauren Hager grounded into a fielder's choice to Clemons at third base, who fired to Patteson at the plate for a force out. But Audrey Graf followed with a two-RBI single into left field on a 3-2 count, as Kinney and Fanner scored to push Vernon in front, 2-1.
Caroline Taylor followed with an RBI ground out to second baseman Aubrie Harris that plated Hager and extended Vernon's lead to 3-1. Guzman then tripled to right-center field to knock in Graf, and Shay Williams doubled to center field to drive in Guzman as Vernon opened a 5-1 lead by inning's end.
“We were having trouble with the small ball, then they got some of their bigger hitters up and they hit it into the gap,” Lynn said. “You have to take care of that small ball business or what happened tonight can happen to you.”
Brownwood went down in order in the bottom of the sixth inning, while Vernon put the game out of reach with another five-spot in the top of the seventh.
With one out, Kinney reached on a single to right field, then Fanner laid down a bunt and the throw to first ricocheted off Fanner's helmet allowing Kinner to score the sixth run. Hager then doubled to right field to drive in Fanner with the seventh run. Graf laid down another bunt and a wild throw to first base resulted in a four-base error — Brownwood's fourth miscue in the final two innings — permitting two runs to score for a 9-1 Vernon cushion. Taylor followed with a triple to right-center field and scored on Guzman's RBI ground out to shortstop.
The Lady Lions concluded the season with a District 5-4A tri-championship, their 14th consecutive appearance in the postseason and their third straight season reaching at least the third round of the playoffs.
“I thought we did a great job,” Lynn said. “Making it to the third round of the playoffs is a great accomplishment, but obviously we have higher expectations for ourselves. If you make it this far, it's always a great season. I'm proud of the girls, and after going to the state tournament and the regional quarterfinals twice, that's a good foundation, especially for the senior class, to build on and get back to where we were two years ago.”