MINERAL WELLS — No opponent, or adverse situation, seems to faze the Brownwood Lions these days as a Region II-4A area championship trophy is now in their possession — as is a regional quarterfinals date with the Midlothian Panthers.
The Lions witnessed their lead slip away on three separate occasions, but they responded each time and eventually ended the season of the Dallas Hillcrest Panthers with an 8-6, eight-inning victory in the second game of a best-of-three playoff series Saturday afternoon at Pratt Field.
“We’re from Brownwood so you know we’re going to fight,” said senior Mason Ellis, who belted two crucial home runs — including the game-winner — and drove in three runs. “It’s just the program. We’re never going to die. We’re going to fight until the end.”
Next up for Brownwood (20-11) is a Region II-4A quarterfinals series with District 15-4A champion Midlothian (20-7) at Weatherford Junior College. Game 1 is slated for 7:30 p.m. Friday, with Game 2 to follow at 1 p.m. Saturday. Game 3, if needed, will start 30 minutes after Game 2’s conclusion.
Midlothian, which received a first-round bye, advanced by defeating Dallas Woodrow Wilson, 10-0, in a one-game area playoff. Though the Panthers won their district, they were swept by Waxahachie during district play, and the Lions ousted Waxahachie in three games in
“This really is unbelievable,” said Lions head coach Scotty Nichols, referring to his team reaching the third round of the playoffs. “These kids have worked extremely hard and I can’t be more proud of them. We still have a lot of work left, but we’re going to see if we can do this again next week.”
Brownwood collected 13 hits off the Hillcrest (18-16) pitching trio of Phillip Sartain, Michael Robinowitz and Chaz Smith Saturday, but no hit was bigger than Ellis’ two-run home run in the top of the eighth inning.
Ellis crushed a one-out offering from Robinowitz over the left-center field wall, which broke a 6-all tie as Parker Taylor — who reached on one of four Panther errors — also scored on the blast.
“He threw me a ball on the first pitch, then I ripped one down the line and I knew I was on the guy,” Ellis said. “The count got to 3-1 and he threw one right down the middle. I just swung and it went over.”
With the Lions owning an 8-6 lead, Garrett Goodwin came on in relief of Ellis — who pitched the first seven innings and allowed six runs on nine hits with seven strikeouts — in the bottom of the eighth inning and picked up the save.
After walking Josh Flores to start the inning, Goodwin struck out Ben Gallant looking, got Collier Bailey to fly out to Ellis in left field and fanned Robinowitz.
“Garrett did a great job,” Nichols said. “He’s a patient guy and I told him that his time was coming. He did great last week and today he came in and closed it out. He’s a great off-speed guy. All of our pitchers are doing a great job for us right
The game-deciding home run was a personal atonement for Ellis, who moments earlier had the Lions on the verge of advancing to the third round of the playoffs in a regulation seven innings.
Leading 6-3 with two outs in the bottom of the seventh, Brownwood saw its lead vanish with one swing of Joseph Paylor’s bat. Paylor — who finished 2-for-3 with a home run, three RBIs and three runs scored — deposited Ellis’ offering deep over the left field wall, scoring himself, Erik Severson and Michael Hinojosa to pull Hillcrest even at 6-all.
“Mason had pretty much handled the back of the order, but they got back around to the top,” Nichols said. “We had two outs and tried to let him finish it. Unfortunately he left the ball up and their center fielder has a good stick and drove it a long way.”
Though Brownwood’s defense struggled at times and gave away a few runs Saturday, two critical plays at the plate prevented the Lions from ever falling behind.
With the game knotted at 1-all with one out in the bottom of the first inning, a relay throw from center fielder Jason Maldonado to shortstop Shelby Miller to catcher Chase Holmes resulted in Revin Wade being gunned down at the plate after a single by Smith.
“I saw him stumble coming around third so I knew we had a chance,” Holmes said. “I just hollered for Shelby to throw it home and he put it right there. It was an easy tag.”
Brownwood’s other defensive gem kept the game even at 3-all in the bottom of the fourth. Hillcrest had already scored twice in the inning due to all three of the Lions’ errors, but Tanner Vaughn’s laser to Holmes at plate foiled Gallant’s bid for a sacrifice fly RBI as Flores became the second out of the inning.
“Tanner made a good throw that was right on target,” Holmes said. “I just caught it and swiped him with it.”
Ellis then swung the momentum fully back in Brownwood’s favor in the top of the fifth inning with a two-out solo home run to left field off Sartain. The round-tripper pushed the Lions back in front, 4-3.
“I knew I needed to come through,” Ellis said. “We had a few errors in the last inning and that let them tie it up, and we had just hit into a double play. I just put the bat on the ball again.”
Brownwood added two insurance runs — both unearned — in top of the seventh to push the advantage to 6-3.
With two on and two out, Brett Barrow hit a routine grounder to short that was thrown into left field which allowed Ellis, who reached on another Hillcrest error, to score Brownwood’s fifth run.
Jacob Allen then beat out a slow roller to third base for an RBI infield single that plated Jarrod Howey — running for Holmes.
The Lions opened the scoring in the first inning with an RBI single from Miller that plated Taylor, who was 2-for-5.
Brownwood grabbed a 3-1 lead with two runs in the third inning. Vaughn, who finished 3-for-5, scored when Miller grounded into a double play, then Holmes drove home Taylor with an RBI single.
“We came out with a better idea of what they were going to throw at us,” said Holmes, who finished 2-for-4 with an RBI. “We saw their ace last night, and they brought a righty and a lefty today. We came out looking to hit the ball today and I think we did really well.”
REGION II-4A AREA PLAYOFF SERIES
Lions 8, Hillcrest 6
Brownwood 102 010 22 - 8 13 3
Hillcrest 100 200 30 - 6 9 4
WP: Mason Ellis (7 Ks, 9 Hs, 7 IP)
LP: Michael Robinowitz (2 Rs, 3 Hs, 1/3 IP)
SV: Garrett Goodwin (1 IP, 2 Ks)
B: Mason Ellis 3-4 (2 HRs, 3 RBIs, 3 runs); Tanner Vaughn 3-5 (run); Shelby Miller 2-3 (RBI), Chase Holmes 2-4 (RBI); Parker Taylor 2-5 (3 runs); Jacob Allen 1-4 (RBI).
H: Joseph Paylor 2-3 (HR, 3 RBIs, 3 runs); Chaz Smith 2-4 (run); Michael Hinojosa 1-2 (run); Erik Severson 1-3 (run); Collier Bailey 1-3; Ben Gallant 1-3; Josh Flores 1-3.
Records: Brownwood 20-11; Hillcrest 18-16.
* Lions advance to face Midlothian (20-7) in the Region II-4A quarterfinals at Weatherford Junior College Friday and Saturday.