The Brownwood Lions came up short in their quest to reach the postseason in head coach Herb Rios’ initial campaign, but a second chance awaits Thursday as the baseball team takes the field for the first time in the regular season.
The Lions, coming off a 9-19 record a year ago, will play four games at the Bell Rivals Baseball Classic, hosted by Cameron and Rockdale, Thursday through Saturday.
“We’re ready to get the season started, that’s for sure,” Rios said. “We had one scrimmage cancelled against Brady because they didn’t have enough players because of basketball. We had an intrasquad scrimmage and the kids did well. We did get to scrimmage Glen Rose and we were really pleased with what we saw on the mound. We threw quite a few kids.”
Brownwood’s opener takes place at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Rockdale, with games against No. 17 Lufkin Hudson at 9:30 a.m. Friday and Cameron at 5 p.m. Friday, in Cameron. The Lions conclude tournament action at noon Saturday against No. 6 Robinson, in Cameron.
“There’s going to be some quality teams there,” Rios said. “Robinson is a top 10 team in the state, Cameron won a state championship two years ago and has won three straight in football. Cameron and Rockdale both went about four or five rounds deep last year. There’s going to be a lot of talent there.”
Following this weekend’s tournament, Brownwood will embark on Glen Rose for another three-day event March 5-7. The Lions venture to Georgetown Gateway on March 9, then compete in the Snyder tournament March 12-14. The first home games for the Lions are their final two outings before the start of District 6-4A action — against Bangs and Fredericksburg on March 16 and March 20, respectively.
“Before we get to district we want to establish our No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 guy on the mound, the ones we’re really going to count on in district,” Rios said. “Then hopefully we can find two or three others that can give us quality relief work.
“We have a lot of guys we can put on the mound. They don’t necessarily have varsity experience, but they’re definitely guys who have matured and grown a lot over the past year in practice, during bullpen sessions, in scrimmages and our alumni game. They’ve given us some good innings and thrown some strikes for us.”
Pitchers expected to vie for a spot in the district rotation include Kory Owen, Dylan Agan, Carson McAnally, Cole Fowler and Hayden Day, among others.
Rios is also pleased with the progression of the defense, as Day returns behind the plate, Trent Carlton is back at third base, Rawlings Rios is moving to shortstop, Fowler is taking over at second base and McAnally and Carson Cloy are back in the outfield.
“Defensively, we have a pretty good idea about where we’re going to be in the field,” Rios said. “The kids are playing great together right now. There’s been a lot of good, quality work, a lot of cohesion. I feel like we’re way ahead of where we finished last year. I’m real excited about the direction we’re headed in.”
The 2014 offense wasn’t what Rios hoped, but he stated this year’s squad should be more productive at the plate.
“At the plate, last year we struggled scoring runs,” Rios said. “But I feel like we’re really going to be able to put some runs on the board this year. We’re hitting the ball well right now. We had a great scrimmage against Glen Rose. We had 11 hits and did a really good job. I’m excited about our offensive potential this year.”
The District 6-4A slate features a pair of Top 20 teams — No. 11 Abilene Wylie and No. 15 Stephenville — while Graham lurks just outside the rankings. The website txhighschoolbaseball.com ranks Wylie, Stephenville and Graham at Nos. 3-5 in the Region I-4A rankings. The website also projects the Lions to finish fifth, missing out on 6-4A’s final playoff spot, which would go to Mineral Wells.
“We’re picked at the bottom of the district but I like flying low under the radar,” Rios said. “We understand the challenge ahead and we accept the challenge. There’s really not much expected of us, but we believe we have the opportunity to compete very well in the district as long as we stay healthy. But it’s a tough district, and a tough road ahead.”
District 6-4A action begins March 24 at Mineral Wells and concludes April 28 at Morris Southall Field against Stephenville.