Brownwood tallies 15th victory in 16 games to secure trip to Austin

HAWLEY — On April 1, the Brownwood Lady Lions owned an 0-3 record against District 6-4A competition and their hopes of reaching the playoffs for the 12th year in a row were in jeopardy.

On May 28, the Lady Lions were crowned Region I-4A champions and secured their second trip, and first in 20 years, to the UIL Class 4A state softball tournament.

With their 15th victory in a span of 16 games, the Lady Lions punched their ticket to Austin as they swept the Region I-4A softball championship series from the Snyder Lady Tigers with a 5-2 triumph here Saturday afternoon.

“When the girls decided it was about the team and not about themselves, when they decided they were going to play for each other, that’s when we made the turn,” Brownwood head coach Jessica Lynn said in regard to the Lady Lions’ dramatic midseason turnaround. “Things got better and better each week and now you can see that each of them is playing hard for each other and that’s all that matters to them.”

Senior second baseman Ashley Gomez added, “I can’t explain how it feels because ever since my freshman year we always wanted to make it to state and it’s great because now we’re going. We’ve really come together as a family and have really good team chemistry now. We’ve gone through so many difficult times, being girls there’s conflict sometimes, but we decided to come together and work as family and it’s really worked out for us.”

Senior catcher Tori Burkett who, like Gomez has been on the varsity roster for four seasons, said, “We came together and it feels amazing. We’ve worked for this goal since our freshman year. And once we came out of our slump and started winning all these games, we knew we had it in us to go this far. I just love this team.”

Lady Lions (25-8-1) freshman pitcher Chyanne Ellett tossed a five-hitter with 10 strikeouts and limited Snyder (29-13) to a pair of runs in Game 2 Saturday after the Lady Tigers put seven runs on the board in Thursday’s series opener.

“Today I worked my change up a lot more and I think that threw them off a lot,” Ellett said. “I just worked my change up more and I was getting a lot more movement on my pitches.”

Trailing 2-1 heading to the bottom of the fourth inning, the Lady Lions generated four runs to take control of the contest.

“When we’re down we find a way to get back up,” Burkett said.

The decisive bottom of the fourth began when senior first baseman Kristen Fuentes drew a leadoff walk, one of two issued by Snyder hurler Megan Leatherwood. With one out, junior center fielder Kayla McFarden singled up the middle, moving sophomore Karly Harper — running for Fuentes — to third base as Harper slid in safely under the tag of Lady Tiger third baseman Shadye Millican.

Sophomore left fielder Emily Perez then grounded to Hailey Morris at shortstop and Harper broke for home on contact. Harper was able to beat Morris’ throw to the plate, sliding between the legs of Snyder catcher Jasmine Montoya to knot the score at 2 apiece.

Burkett followed with another grounder to Morris that she couldn’t field cleanly, which allowed McFarden to score the go-ahead run from third and the Brownwood catcher to reach base. Freshman third baseman Ayanna Clemons followed with another grounder to Morris, who again opted to fire the ball to the plate, but Perez beat the throw home as the lead grew to 4-2.

The Lady Lions capped their scoring when Gomez launched a deep drive to left field over the head of Cailey Coy — who almost gloved the ball — as Danyelle Gongora, running for Burkett, scored the fifth run on the RBI single.

“That just shows how much drive and dedication we have,” Gomez said of the Lady Lions climbing out a hole to regain the lead. “We just think back on how much we’ve worked and we knew we weren’t going to let that waste away.”

Added Lynn, “If we get base runners on we can get them around because we do tend to hit a lot of singles. It was station to station ball, but a single with a runner on third is the same as a solo home run. We just came up with some clutch hits.”

With Ellett possessing a three-run lead, Snyder mustered only two base runners the rest of the way — one on a one-out single by Millican in the sixth and the other on a one-out single by Alyssa Benitez in the seventh. Ellett, who retired 13 batters in a row at one point in Game 1, sat down 12 of the final 14 batters she faced Saturday.

“Chyanne really battled today,” Lynn said. “She came out ready and wanted this bad.”

Snyder grabbed a 1-0 lead in the top of the first as Claudia Gutierrez reached base on a two-out error, moved to second on a passed ball and scored on an RBI double by Morris.

The Lady Lions immediately answered in the bottom of the first as Victoria Sanchez drew a one-out walk off Leatherwood — who gave up six hits, fanned six and walked a pair. Sanchez advanced to second on a wild pitch and came home on a two-out double to right-center field by Fuentes, knotting the score at 1-all.

“We’re just focusing on every pitch and doing what we’ve got to do,” Fuentes said in regard to another clutch two-out hit for Brownwood.

The Lady Tigers again seized control in the top of the fourth as Millican singled with one out and Montoya reached on a debated dropped third strike. Nicole Clark laid down a bunt to plate Millican, but Ellett escaped any further damage and the Lady Lions turned the game around in their next trip to the plate.

Brownwood will be joined by Region II champion Paris North Lamar (27-7), Region III champion La Grange (38-2) and Region IV champion Needville (25-14) Thursday at McCombs Field on the University of Texas campus. Semifinal games will be at 9 a.m. and noon and matchups and start times will be finalized today.

The Class 4A state championship game will take place at 10 a.m. Saturday.

“This is the best graduation present,” Fuentes said. “This is incredible. I knew we could go far this season, but I didn’t know we’d go this far. Now I believe we can win it all. It’s going to be really challenging, so we’ll have to play to our full potential like we know how.”