Almost 48 hours after the fact, the Brownwood Lady Lions’ berth in the Class 4A State Softball Championships still hadn’t completely sunk in with some of the members of the team.
The Region I-4A champion Lady Lions (25-8-1) — who secured the program’s second state berth and first since 1996 with Saturday’s 5-2 victory over Snyder — will face Region III-4A champion La Grange (38-2) at 9 a.m. Thursday at the University of Texas’ McCombs Field in state semifinal action.
“It hasn’t hit me yet that we’re going to state. To me it’s just another playoff game,” junior shortstop Victoria Sanchez said after Monday morning’s practice. “Once we step on the field, it will hit me. I’m going to feel like I’m a boss, like I’m everything, like I’ve got power. That’s how I think it’s going to feel.”
For many of the Lady Lions, playing softball past Memorial Day is part of the territory, though it usually takes place in summer league action either locally or around the state.
“I’m used to playing in the summer, but this time I’m getting to play with all my friends that I’ve spent the last four months playing with,” said sophomore left fielder Emily Perez. “It’s really special that we still get to be together and go to state together. It’s crazy because this is something we’ve all wanted.”
The Lady Lions last appeared in a state tournament before any player on the team was born, while La Grange — the 2014 Class 4A state champion — is making its third trip to Austin in four years.
Despite La Grange owning the experience advantage, the Lady Lions aren’t letting that affect their preparation in any way. Since coming out of a midseason slump, Brownwood owns the same 15-1 record as La Grange over their last 16 contests, which only adds to the Lady Lions’ confidence.
“They’ve been three of the last four years and it’s going to be tough, but why can’t it be us?” Lady Lions head coach Jessica Lynn said. “I don’t see why it can’t be us with the way we’re playing and the confidence we have. We give ourselves a chance every time we step on the field if we’re playing our best.”
The Lady Lions believe the key to their success will be mental as much as physical, as they must block out any nerves once the action begins.
“We have to stay focused, nothing can change,” Perez said. “We’re going to be in front of a lot more people than we’ve probably every played in front of. I’m sure we’ll be a little nervous because it’s something we’ve always dreamed of, but once we have that team talk right before we play everything washes away and we’re ready to play.”
Brownwood’s defensive improvement has been among the key factors in the team’s turnaround, and remaining sharp in Austin will be critical to advancing.
“You always have to have defense because that wins games,” Sanchez said. “We’ve done well at catching the balls we needed to and making the plays we needed to. We’ve also picked up our hitting from the regular season and our hitting makes it where we don’t have to worry about little errors.”
The Lady Lions have averaged 6.3 runs per game over the last 16 contests, and it may take a similar effort to get past La Grange.
“We have to keep our bats rolling,” Perez said. “Hitting is the main key. Our defense is great right now and our offense is doing good right now. If everybody hits and we can score a run or two in every inning, we should be able to beat them.”
La Grange boasts gaudy numbers heading into the state tournament, with an offense that averages 10.2 runs per game and bats .375 as a team with 133 extra-base hits, 82 doubles, 34 home runs and 74 stolen bases. In the circle, La Grange owns a 0.95 team ERA with 16 shutouts, while the defense has committed just 27 errors in 40 games.
But the Lady Lions won’t be backing down Thursday morning.
“It’ll be a good game,” Sanchez said. “They might think it’s going to be an easy game but we won’t make it easy for them. We want this just as bad as they do. It’s going to be a fight.”
SEND OFF FOR LADY LIONS WEDNESDAY
There will be a send off for the Brownwood Lady Lions softball team at 11 a.m. Wednesday at the high school. The Lady Lions will be heading to Austin for their Class 4A state semifinal game against La Grange, which will take place at 9 a.m. Thursday at UT’s McCombs Field.