Based solely on recent postseason performances, the Brownwood Lions’ odds of getting past the Highland Park Scots would be suspect at best. But the “never say die” attitude of the Lions has already resulted in the elimination of three perennial playoff powers and has Brownwood on the doorstep of baseball history.
The 2007 Lions (22-11) will attempt to become the first team in the program’s 23-year history to advance five rounds deep in the playoffs as they clash with Highland Park (32-9) in Game 1 of their Region II-4A
semifinals series at 7:30 p.m. tonight at Weatherford High School’s Raymond E. Curtis Field. Game 2 will be held Saturday at 4 p.m. at the same location, with Game 3 to follow 30 minutes after, if needed.
Brownwood is in the midst of a season-long six-game win streak — all in the postseason — and has won 14 of its last 18 games after starting the year 8-7. The Scots own victories in 18 of their last 19 games
dating back to March 24. Highland Park started District 10-4A action with four consecutive losses.
The Lions’ only other trip to the fourth round of the playoffs came in 1990, when the majority of this year’s team was still in diapers — if they were even born. Brownwood lost to Andrews in what was then the regional championship round, which is the round the Lions will play in next week if they get past the Scots.
The regional semifinals have become commonplace for Highland Park, which has advanced at least this far in six of the past seven seasons. The Scots have appeared in three of the last 10 state tournaments and
claimed the 4A state championship in 1998. Highland Park also played for the state title in 1997 and 1956.
Meanwhile, the Lions baseball program did not resume until the spring of 1985 after taking a five-decade hiatus. Brownwood promptly made the UIL playoffs for the first time in 1986 with a team that featured current Lions football offensive coordinator and head boys soccer coach Mitch Moore at second base and current Brownwood assistant superintendent Kevin Gabaree as assistant coach.
In 1993, Brownwood also appeared in the regional semifinals but only had to advance three rounds deep to do so as fewer teams competed in the playoffs at that time.
The pasts of each program will have no bearing on the outcome of this weekend’s series, though Lions head coach Scotty Nichols does feel that the pressure is on Highland Park due to their baseball heritage.
“They have a big tradition, they won the state championship in ’98, and we’re not expected to win by a lot of people across the state,” Nichols said. “But we’re going to go in and play as hard as we can. We’re not going to be intimidated. Our guys are fired up and excited.”
The Lions could apply even more pressure if they perform as they have during the last six games, where they have trailed in only five of the last 43 innings played.
“They have a reputation of being a little loud and rowdy and trying to get in people’s heads, but we’re hoping we can quiet them down a little,” Nichols said.
Highland Park’s pitching staff is anchored by UT-Pan American signee Evan Blakely (7-1, 3.89 regular season ERA), who suffered his first loss of the season in the Scots’ 6-3 defeat at the hands of Nacogdoches in Game 1 of last weekend’s regional quarterfinals series.
Wyatt Holliday (6-2, 1.24 regular season ERA) gave up four runs on seven hits with six strikeouts and three walks in Highland Park’s 6-4 Game 2 victory, while Bradley Stephenson (3-1, 3.78 regular season ERA) threw a five-inning shutout with a pair of strikeouts in the 13-0 series finale.
“Their numbers are not overwhelming or something that just blows you over, but they’re going to be smart pitchers,” Nichols said. “At this stage you know they’re also going to be throwing pretty hard. We have
to be disciplined at the plate and not chase pitches.”
The Lions counter with their own three-headed pitching monster of Shelby Miller, Garrett Goodwin and Mason Ellis, who have combined to hurl every pitch in the postseason. Brownwood has allowed an average of 3.3 runs per game during its win streak.
One of the biggest keys for the Lion pitchers will be keeping the walks to a minimum, which they have done an excellent job of in the playoffs. Highland Park drew 10 walks in its most recent game, including the first five batters that stepped to the plate. The Scots owned a 4-0 lead over Nacogdoches after one inning despite only one hit.
After being held to three runs in the first 10 innings, the Scots offense outscored Nacogdoches 19-4 over the final eight innings of series.
Jonathan Perlman (.327, 10 RBIs in the regular season) recorded six hits and six RBIs in the series — with all six RBIs coming in the final two games. Other top offensive performers in the series included Joey Hainsfurther (.425, four home runs, 25 RBIs), Seth Gardner (.351, 31 RBIs, seven steals) and Dutch Crews (.312, 14 RBIs in regular season).
“Their bats are as good as any we’ve faced, if not better,” Nichols said. “It’s like the Waxahachie series when we knew they were going to hit the ball. We just have to make the plays.”
Brownwood, which averaged nine runs per game in the Midlothian series, is coming off its highest run output of the postseason with 11 in the series finale. Eight of those runs came in the fifth inning, where most of Brownwood’s memorable rallies have started.
The bottom of the order — second baseman Brett Barrow, left fielder Jacob Allen and center fielder Jason Maldonado — ignited the Lions’ eight-run rally Saturday, and in Friday’s series opener they accounted
for four of Brownwood’s eight hits and five of its seven RBIs.
Catcher Chase Holmes also capped a huge series with a 3-for-4 performance Saturday that included a double, triple and four RBIs.
Those performances join Ellis’ two home runs in Game 2 against Dallas Hillcrest and Miller’s 5-for-7, five-RBI doubleheader effort against Waxahachie as keys to the Lions’ advancement.
Still, Nichols sees the final outcome this weekend being decided by the fundamentals.
“The keys are going to be pitching, defense and the little plays, like bunts and covering bunts,” he said. “You have to make sure little mistakes don’t pile up and turn into a big inning. Momentum is huge in baseball and we have to get that on our side again.”
The winner of the series will face either Mesquite Poteet (30-4) or Corsicana (25-5) for the Region II-4A championship next weekend.