WEATHERFORD — Make room for yet another milestone in the Brownwood Lions baseball record book.
The 2007 Lions joined the 1990 squad as fourth-round postseason participants with their sixth consecutive playoff victory, an 11-4 triumph over the Midlothian Panthers Saturday afternoon in Game 2 of a best-of-three Region II-4A quarterfinals series at Weatherford College’s Roger Williams Ballpark.
Brownwood (22-11) will challenge either Nacogdoches (24-12) or Highland Park (31-9) in the regional semifinals next weekend. The third game of the Nacogdoches-Highland Park series had not been completed at press time.
“This feels so great,” said catcher Chase Holmes, who was 3-for-4 with a double, triple and four RBIs to pace the Lions offense. “It’s been an unbelievable Cinderella season.”
Added Lions head coach Scotty Nichols, “Maybe we’ve made believers out of some of the people around town who haven’t come out yet. I hope they come out because we really want them to support us.”
Holmes finished with one-third of Brownwood’s nine hits off the Midlothian (20-9) pitching combination of starter Jarred Barr and relievers Jacob Hensley and Justin Godwin. Right fielder Tanner Vaughn added a hit and two RBIs, while third baseman Jonathan White, center fielder Jason Maldonado, first baseman Parker Taylor and shortstop Shelby Miller recorded an RBI and a hit apiece.
The Panthers — who also tallied nine hits off Brownwood pitchers Mason Ellis and Garrett Goodwin — received two hits each from Waynne Warren and Truett Teague, while Scott Hibbitts added a two-run single.
The fifth inning has been kind to Brownwood throughout the season and Saturday was no exception. The Lions — who have trailed in just five of the last 43 innings — erupted for eight runs in the top of the fifth to erase a 2-0 deficit after managing just one hit off Barr in their first four trips to the plate.
Brownwood sent 13 batters to the plate in the fifth, chalked up five hits and took advantage of three walks and two errors to seize a six-run advantage.
“The game was out there and they were waiting for us to come get it,” Nichols said. “We finally started making good things happen and sure enough we got the game. We always keep our heads and keep cool. Baseball is a game of momentum. We got it on our side and things worked out for us.”
The bottom three in the batting order — second baseman Brett Barrow, left fielder Jacob Allen and Maldonado — set the table for the Lions’ comeback. In Game 1, the trio combined for four of Brownwood’s eight hits and five of its seven RBIs.
Barrow drew the fourth walk off Barr, Allen roped a single to left field and Maldonado reached after his sacrifice bunt was booted to load the bases with no outs.
“This whole series the bottom of the order has been big, but especially today,” Nichols said. “Seven, eight and nine loaded the bases and that was key for us because the top of the line up can hit the ball. The fifth inning was critical for us.”
Vaughn then slapped a grounder that was barely flagged down by Midlothian second baseman Chase Edwards, but Barrow scored on the RBI ground out to cut Midlothian’s lead to 2-1. Taylor followed with a one-out RBI single up the middle that brought home Allen and pulled the Lions even at 2-all.
“The fifth inning is the Brownwood Lions’ inning,” Taylor said. “We score most of our runs in close ball games in the fifth.
“We picked up what (Barr) was doing, which was a fast ball on the first pitch, and just started ripping him. We emphasized that and got some runs. The bases were loaded when I came up and that gave me a chance to wheel them in. I’m just glad I got the job done.”
Ellis followed with a walk to again load the bases, then a wild pitch on an 0-1 offering to Miller allowed Maldonado to sprint home with the go-ahead run.
Barr was then pulled with a 1-1 count on Miller in favor of Hensley, who issued an intentional walk to Miller to load the bases.
Holmes — who picked up Brownwood’s first hit in the fourth inning — made the Panthers pay for their decision to load the sacks as he crushed a three-RBI triple to the base of the wall in center field and gave the Lions a 6-2 advantage.
“All day I’d been aggressive and swinging at the first pitch and he threw it belt high on me,” Holmes said. “I just had a perfect swing on it and drove it to the fence. I was coming around second and didn’t know if I would go to third, but I saw Coach Nichols waving me. It was a pretty good hit.”
White followed with a bloop RBI single to center that plated Jarrod Howey — running for Holmes — then Maldonado added a two-out RBI single to left that scored White.
Brownwood upped its lead to 9-2 in the sixth inning on Holmes’ two-out RBI double that scored Ellis, who reached on an error.
“I was just trying to put some more insurance runs up for us, do my job and get another run in for our pitchers,” Holmes said.
The Lions scored twice more in the top of the seventh to build a nine-run cushion, 11-2. Vaughn’s RBI single down the first base line scored Allen, while Miller singled home Maldonado.
Midlothian scored two runs in the bottom of the seventh off Goodwin — who gave up three hits and fanned three in three innings of relief. Hibbitts came off the bench and collected a one-out, two-RBI single, but the Panthers never mounted a serious threat.
Ellis got the start for Brownwood and worked the first four innings, surrendering a pair of runs on six hits.
“Mason’s done a great job all year and we were just a couple of plays away from them not scoring with him in there,” Nichols said. “Garrett came on in the fifth and changed the delivery and threw off their hitters. His first two innings went by quick, then he had some trouble in the seventh but got back on his game.”
With three postseason opponents disposed of, two more are all that stand in the way of the Lions and a potential trip to Dell Diamond in Round Rock for the Class 4A state tournament. Whether or not Brownwood makes it that far will depend on how the pitching holds up, according to Nichols.
“We knew we could be a pretty solid baseball team if, and only if, our pitching came through,” Nichols said. “That’s the key to every team in America, though, but our pitching’s done an excellent job. They turned it on in district and now they’re on a roll.”