The Brownwood Lady Lions showed they can roar back from tough times during the District 2-3A schedule, and they hope to provide an encore performance this weekend when they tangle with the Lubbock Cooper Lady Pirates in the Region I-3A bi-district round of the UIL Class 3A state softball playoffs.
The best-of-three series is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. Friday in Snyder, with Games 2 and 3, if needed, to follow at 11 a.m. Saturday at the same location.
The Lady Lions (22-8), the third seed out of District 2-3A, are carrying a two-game losing streak into the postseason, while District 1-3A runner-up Lubbock Cooper (23-9) was defeated in its final regular season contest.
Brownwood dropped its district finale at home, 3-0, to Snyder - the last place team in 2-3A - and suffered an 11-8 seeding playoff loss to Graham this past Friday - a game in which the Lady Lions squandered a six-run lead.
But the Lady Lions are no strangers to adversity this season as Brownwood came up short in its first three district games before reeling off six straight victories to clinch its fifth straight postseason appearance.
“I think we’ve got that behind us,” said Lady Lions first-year head coach Rex Cook of the team’s most recent bump in the road. “I think after everyone knew we were going to make the playoffs, we got a little lax. We’ve had some pretty good practices this week although we haven’t been able to do anything but bat and catch balls in the outfield. But we still looked pretty good.”
One of the biggest questions heading into the series for Brownwood is which offense will make the trip. Against Graham this past Friday, the Lady Lions homered twice, chalked up 11 hits and scored eight runs. But against Snyder, Brownwood was blanked, mustered just a pair of first-inning hits and stuck out 11 times.
“That’s why we’ve been hitting a lot the last few days,” Cook said. “I think we’re going to be all right. We’re probably going to throw a little bit of small ball in there to mix it up because I’ve heard their defense has had some problems.”
Cooper freshman pitcher Lauren Heinrich brings a 17-6 record, three saves, a 2.47 ERA and 201 strikeouts in 141.2 innings into the series. Cook compares Heinrich’s primary weapon - the rise ball - to that of Snyder pitcher Alex Koonce, who shut down the Lady Lions two games ago.
“From what everybody has told me she’s going to compare to the Snyder girl with her rise ball,” Cook said. “She’s not going to be excessively fast, but she hits her spots real well. Her rise ball is her moneymaker. If we can be disciplined enough to stay off that rise ball, then she’s going to have to come down to us. Then we’ll have to make it happen.”
The Lady Lion offense is capable of exploding at any time. Brownwood owns a team batting average of .302 and averages 6.1 runs per game. Over the last 11 games, the Lady Lions are hitting at a .314 clip and putting up 8.8 runs per contest.
Six Lady Lions are batting over .300, led by leadoff hitter Amanda Gober (.374, 15 RBIs, five steals). Kerri Jones (.354) is next as she leads the team RBIs (37), home runs (8) and extra-base hits (18). Kate Atchley (.353, HR, nine RBIs), Mallorie Maxwell (.349, HR, 19 RBIs), Jalisa Hall (.349, 11 RBIs), Alex Williams (.321, 4 HRs, 17 RBIs) and Nathalie de la Torre (.218, HR, 16 RBIs) have also demonstrated their power at various points in the season. Meanwhile, Tiara Brown (.295, eight RBIs) and Sydnie Darden (.273, eight RBIs) have helped ignite the offense at the bottom part of the order.
If Lubbock Cooper sticks with just one pitcher throughout the series - though the Lady Pirates also have sophomore Korrie Chandler (5-2, 3.90 ERA, 26 strikeouts in 37.2 innings) at their disposal - Cook feels that plays into the Lady Lions’ hands.
“The biggest advantage for us is we have two pitchers we can go to and they have one,” Cook said. “Their coach told me they just wanted one game, so that told me a lot right up front. A series also gives us a chance to see their pitcher in the first game and get used to her, then in the rest of the games we’ll have already seen her. That gives us the advantage if that’s all the pitching they’ve got.”
Lady Lion pitchers Atchley (1-3, 2.32 ERA, 127 strikeouts in 101 innings) and Sayla Parsons (8-5, 3.84 ERA, 71 strikeouts in 65.2 innings) will need to be sharper than their last outing against Graham to keep Brownwood in the series. The Lady Lion pitchers surrendered an uncharacteristic five walks between them and gave up 11 hits this past Friday.
“I think that was just a one game thing,” Cook said. “Part of it was the game situation and the umpires and everything that goes with that because I don’t think we were actually throwing that badly. We gave the pitchers Monday off, though, just to give their arms a rest, but we’ve started back in.”
The Lady Pirates bring a .353 team batting average and an average of 7.7 runs per game into the series. Cooper is led by freshman Hannah Limmer (.457, HR, 12 doubles, 32 RBIs, eight steals), junior Lacie Jacques (.429, nine doubles, 17 RBIs), Chandler (.402, two HRs, nine doubles, 23 RBIs), senior Lillie Paschall (.393, 27 RBIs), junior Paige Sterling (.375, eight doubles, 18 RBIs), Heinrich (351, three HRs, 12 RBIs) and senior Alex Derr (.333, 19 RBIs).
While Cooper owns some gaudy offensive numbers, Cook anticipates the Lady Pirates using small ball to generate most of their run production. That will put extra pressure on a Brownwood defense that owns an .867 fielding percentage for the season.
“I expect them to use small ball and try and bunt and run from what I’ve heard,” Cook said. “They want to make us play the ball in the infield and keep us on edge. Keeping the errors down will be a big key for us.”
The winner of the bi-district series will advance to face District 4-3A champion Pecos in the area round the weekend of May 7-9.