Prior to the start Scotty Nichols’ second season as head coach of the Brownwood Lions baseball team, he had no idea what to expect from a roster that consisted mostly of players who had never even worn a varsity uniform. What Nichols wound up having in his team of unknowns was the first Lions squad to make the postseason since 1999.
Questions have once again arisen as a team with absolutely no playoff experience prepares to take part in a Region II-4A bi-district best-of-three series with the Waxahachie Indians.
The District 16-4A second-seeded Lions (16-10) will attempt to provide the same type of answers they displayed during the regular season, starting with today’s 8 p.m. series opener against 15-4A third-seed Waxahachie (20-8) at Keller Central High School. Games 2 and 3, if needed, will be played at the same location beginning at 5:30 p.m. Friday.
“We debated for a while if we wanted a two-of-three series or one game,” Nichols said. “The best team will win two out of three games for the most part, but we’re approaching this one game at a time and looking to win the first two and we won’t have to play a third game. We’ll try to get the first one Thursday night and if not, we’ll come out again Friday and see what happens.”
The lack of cooperation from Mother Nature lately adds extra importance to tonight’s game as well. With storms popping up all over the place, there is no guarantee that three games will be able to be finished. Therefore, the winner of tonight’s game — should it be completed — would be in position to move on if the weather again deteriorates over the weekend.
“With the way the weather situation has been, a Game 1 win could be huge,” Nichols said. “We have to approach Thursday like its a one-game deal.”
The weather conditions also haven’t done any favors for the Lions in their preparations for their most important baseball games in almost a decade.
“There’s nobody around this area that hasn’t been effected by the weather,” Nichols said. “With everything being outside, we’ve had some down time for our practices. We’ve gone a few places and got some practice in, but not as much as we’d like. Hopefully it’s enough to get us through to next week.”
Nichols and company also know they will have to be on their toes against an Indian squad that excels in the basics of the game.
“From the information we’ve received, they’re going to be a very good defensive team,” Nichols said. “They also have a big 6-3, 240-pound right-handed sophomore pitcher that’s leading their team, and another guy with a 5-1 record.”
Waxahachie’s pitching staff features four pitchers with at least three victories — Marshall Davis (5-2, 1.74 ERA, 46 Ks in 48 IP), Colton Cain (5-1, 2.18 ERA, 52 Ks in 35 IP), Boomer Collins (4-2, 3.73 ERA, 27 Ks in 30 IP) and Ryan Prokof (3-1, 5.60, 8 Ks in 15 IP).
Waxahachie is equally as talented offensively as five of the Indians’ leading hitters have batting averages of at least .338 in a minimum of 48 at-bats. Matt Munday (.667, 14 extra-base hits, 24 RBIs) leads the way, followed by Cain (.395, 4 HRs, 33 RBIs), Casey Payne (.361, 1 HR, 18 RBIs), Drew Harrison (.360, 7 HR, 35 RBIs) and Collins (.338, 10 RBIs, 8 steals).
“They’re going to put the ball on the ground with bunts and they have a couple of guys that can steal bases,” Nichols said. “Their batting averages are solid throughout the order. They’re going to put the ball in play so we’re going to have to play good defense.”
Nichols believes the Lions’ defense, which he considers the strong suit of the team, is prepared for the challenge Waxahachie’s offense will provide.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that our defense has kept us in games all year and right now it’s as good as it’s been all year if not better,” Nichols said. “That’s been a focal point for our team. We have to make sure we make the routine plays and not give them extra bases by making errors. We pride ourselves on good defense, and that makes any team tough to beat.”
Brownwood’s offense will counter with a balanced attack that is capable of producing runs from any spot in the order.
Shelby Miller leads the Lions with a .424 batting average, three home runs and 28 RBIs. Chase Holmes is batting .321 with only 17 base hits, but he’s drawn 34 walks, homered once and driven in 13. Leadoff hitter Tanner Vaughn is also batting .321 with 12 RBIs, while Mason Ellis is hitting at a .298 clip with 12 doubles, a pair of home runs and 20 RBIs.
“When you know anybody we have that steps into the box can hit the ball and get the job done, that gives a lot of confidence to all the guys,” Nichols said.
On the mound, the Lions will trot out Miller, Ellis and Garrett Goodwin. Miller is 7-4 with a 2.09 ERA and 95 strikeouts in 67 innings, while Ellis has stepped up his game in the last few weeks and carries a 2-1 record and 4.41 ERA into the series. Goodwin, the Lions’ top reliever, owns a 2-2 mark with a 2.58 ERA and 33 strikeouts in 38 innings.
“Pitching will be huge for us,” Nichols said. “You can only use a pitcher for so many innings in a series, so we’re going to have to pay attention to who we’re throwing and when. If it goes three games, it’s all going to come down to who has the best pitching and plays defense behind them. I’ve got all the faith in the world in our guys.”
The survivor of the series will move on to face District 13-4A champion Dallas Hillcrest in the area round.