WEATHERFORD — The resiliency of the Brownwood Lions was again on display Friday night as they increased their postseason win streak to five games and moved within one victory of clinching a spot in the Region II-4A semifinals.
The Lions broke a 3-all tie with a four-spot in the bottom of the fifth inning, then escaped a bases-loaded, no-outs jam in the top of the seventh to knock off the Midlothian Panthers, 7-4, in Game 1 of their Region II-4A quarterfinals best-of-three series.
Game 2 is slated for 1 p.m. today back at Weatherford College’s Roger Williams Ballpark. If a third game is needed, it will start 30 minutes after the conclusion of Game 2. If the Lions hold on, it will be the first time since 1990 they have advanced to the fourth round of the baseball playoffs.
“All year long we’ve been able to come back when something happens,” said Lions head coach Scotty Nichols. “I couldn’t be more proud of these guys, but we’ve still got a lot of work left ahead of us. We can’t celebrate too long because there’s going to be another heck of a battle.”
Added second baseman Brett Barrow, “It’s more of a program thing than just baseball. This program is built on never quitting and working hard and I think they really came out tonight. We’ve never given up.”
Shelby Miller, fresh off a 16-strikeout performance against Dallas Hillcrest in the series opener last weekend, struck out 12 Panthers and scattered seven hits Friday night.
The Lions (21-11) spotted Miller a four-run cushion heading into the final inning, but Midlothian (20-8) got back-to-back singles from Truett Teague and Tanner Putty, then Justin Lehman reached on Brownwood’s lone error to load the bases with no outs.
Miller responded with a strikeout of Nathan Wolf, but Jerrod Spillers’ slow rolling infield single resulted in his second hit and second RBI and trimmed the Lions’ lead to 7-4.
Jarred Barr then whiffed against Miller for the second out of the inning, and center fielder Jason Maldonado ran down Ryan McElhaney’s shot to the gap in right-center field to seal the victory.
“In situations like that all you have to do is go out there and throw strikes and rely on your defense,” Miller said. “I threw right down the middle and let them hit the ball and Jason made a great play. That’s what baseball’s all about, making plays.”
Added Nichols, “Shelby’s getting better as the year goes along. Midlothian has a good bunch of hitters and he just battled out there. You can’t ask more of him. He’s a sophomore and he’s grown up a lot. This was a big stage for him and he responded well.”
Midlothian pulled even at 3-all in the top of the fifth on an RBI single from Spillers that plated Chase Edwards, and a double steal that scored Teague.
But the Lions had an answer in their half of the fifth as Miller singled off Midlothian starter Kyle Fricke with one out, then Chase Holmes was hit by a pitch. Relief pitcher Waynne Warren came on and immediately walked Jonathan White to load the bases.
Barrow then blooped the second pitch he saw from Warren down the right field line for a two-run single that ended his hitting slump and put the Lions back in front, 5-3.
“The pitch was a breaking curve ball and at first I thought it was a fast ball,” Barrow said. “But I saw the spin on it and just went with the pitch to the opposite field and it landed where nobody was.
“It felt good for the team and I haven’t batting as well lately, so it was good to kind of get the pressure off, too.”
Jacob Allen’s RBI sacrifice fly then plated White with the sixth Brownwood run, before Maldonado’s second base hit resulted in his second RBI as Barrow came home with the seventh run.
The bottom three in the Brownwood order accounted for four of its eight hits and five of its seven RBIs.
“The seven, eight and nine guys really came through,” Nichols said. “We’ve got an order that can hit at the top and the bottom.”
Maldonado’s sacrifice fly in the bottom of the second inning opened the scoring as White beat the throw home from right field for a 1-0 Brownwood lead.
Midlothian tied the game at 1-all when Truett scored on Wolf’s sacrifice fly in the top of the third inning, but the Lions forged back in front in the bottom of the third.
Parker Taylor led off with a single and Mason Ellis followed with the second of his two walks before Miller launched a deep drive to right-center fielder that deflected off Truett’s glove. Both runners scored on the play for a 3-1 Lions advantage.
“He was a fast ball thrower and I was ready for it,” Miller said. “I saw it come at me and I just took it to right-center.”