Poised to finish alone in second place in the final District 8-3A baseball standings, a nightmarish two-game weekend — which featured 13 errors — dropped the Brownwood Lions to the third seed heading into the playoffs.
Brownwood (17-11), however, will attempt to start anew in the postseason Thursday as it hosts Glen Rose (14-12) in the first game of a Region I-3A bi-district playoff series. Games 2 and 3, if needed, will shift to Glen Rose beginning at 5 p.m. Friday.
“This time of year all teams want to be playing their best ball, and we are no exception,” said Lions first-year head coach Blake Sandford. “The kids realize that we cannot make errors against any team, and have had tremendous work days. They have played quite a few error free ball games, so it is certainly in their realm to continue. I have the utmost confidence in this team.”
Offensively, the Lions have averaged 5 runs per game for the season, but tallied a total of three runs, while giving up 20, in back-to-back losses to Burnet Friday and Saturday.
“Scoring runs can be cyclic,” Sandford said. “We have to continue to have a good approach at the plate, and swing at good pitches. When we balance up and concentrate, the swings will be better, and the contact of the ball will be better. Once that happens, as we get successive base runners, the runs will occur.”
Despite the disappointing performance to close the regular season, Sandford feels the Lions are focused on the task at hand and will be prepared for Glen Rose.
“They’ve approached practice with a mindset that hard work will pay off,” Sandford said. “We have to have a short memory in baseball, and continue to do the things that got us here in the first place. I put a lot of stock in a team that can have ownership in what they are doing. They are all leaders, whether they lead themselves and unlock their own potential, or if they inspire someone else to work at a championship level.”
Heading into the Glen Rose series, the Lions are batting .283 as a team, led by Scott Kinzler (.375, 19 RBIs), Justin Osteen (.375, HR, 20 RBIs), Cojo Guidry (.341, 17 RBIs), Seth Owen (.337, 7 RBIs) and Trent Carlton (.311, HR, 10 RBIs).
On the mound, Brownwood possesses a 2.62 team ERA led by Kinzler (6-2, 1.22 ERA, 114 strikeouts, 10 walks in 57.1 innings), Owen (5-4, 2.09 ERA, 92 strikeouts, 27 walks in 53.2 innings), Osteen (1-0, 3.75 ERA, two saves) and Colt Evetts (3-1, 2.02 ERA, one save).
“We started this back in January, on the 25th, with the first day of practice,” Sandford said. “We feel that we can go toe to toe with anyone, and have worked to get a lot of experience with this format.”
Glen Rose and Brownwood have crossed paths once already this season with the Lions earning a 2-0 victory at the Graham Frozen Bat Classic Feb. 26. Kinzler pitched a one-hit shutout, striking out 16 batters. Osteen was among the Lions’ offensive catalysts.
The Tigers are, however, coming off a 14-2 victory over Venus in the district finale, a team Brownwood split a doubleheader with during spring break.
“Glen Rose is a well coached team with a great history of baseball,” Sandford said. “They finished second in their district but could have easily won it. They have a couple of kids who are quite good on the mound, and there are several of their hitters who can flat swing it. Even late in the year they had a kid who came in off the bench and produced at the plate.
“I have told the kids all year we cannot control other teams, but we sure can control us, and how we respond. How we answer the bell will tell how we do in this series.”
As for advancing to the area round to face District 6-3A champion Kennedale — and even farther in the playoffs— Sandford pointed to all-around consistency.
“One of the keys to advancing is to start out as fast as we can offensively,” Sandford said. “I want to score first, and want the kids to put up crooked number innings. We will need to get quality pitching, and we must play error free ball. The guys have fielded countless balls this year in practice, have swung the bat thousands of times in our drills, so the hay is in the barn. We need to go out, play hard, and have a lot of fun. There are a lot of teams who would love to trade places with us, so we are blessed and thankful for this opportunity. That being said, we have the chemistry and team make up to play for quite a while.”