For the second year in a row under head coach Blandon Hancock's direction, the Brownwood Lions are in the UIL Class 4A baseball state playoffs. Now, the Lions are targeting their first bi-district championship since 2013 as Brownwood battles Vernon at 6 p.m. Saturday at Abilene Christian University in a one-game opening round showdown.
The Lions (17-10) finished tied for second in District 5-4A, but are the third playoff seed against District 6-4A runner-up Vernon (13-9-2). Since starting the season 11-4, which included a nine-game win streak, the Lions are just 6-6 in their last 12 outings — but Brownwood was missing multiple starters due to injuries during that stretch. That won't be the case Saturday night.
“We will actually be 100 percent for the first time since February, and hopefully that helps us get on a roll,” Hancock said. “The guys have been practicing this week, getting back in the swing of things. I'm proud of the kids that have had to step up and replace some of the guys. They're younger guys and have gotten experience that will help in the future, so that's a positive. I'm also proud of the guys that have been injured, they've worked hard to get back.”
Vernon is coming off back-to-back shutout victories over Stephenville (7-0) in a playoff warm-up game this past weekend, and Wichita Falls Hirschi (20-0) in the district finale.
Against Stephenville, Brayden Williams, Chad Thomas, Landry Gonzales and Tyler Reeves combined to toss a two-hitter with four strikeouts and one walk. At the plate, Vernon collected 11 hits — two each by Ryan Powell, Jacob Boyd and Brysan Garrard, and
one apiece by Reeves, Williams, Kameron Hooker, Jacob Boatman, Marc Rodriguez.
“We got the opportunity to go see them last weekend,” Hancock said. “They're really aggressive on the bases. They're not going to kill us with power, or gap power, they're a singles team that likes to put pressure on you on the bases. That's how they score their runs.”
Though Vernon used four pitchers against Stephenville, Thomas is the ace of the staff.
“They have one pitcher that throws about 82 to 84 mph,” Hancock said. “He lives off his fastball; his curve ball and change up are not very good. That's what we like. Everybody's pitched us backwards all year and threw more off-speed to us, so we're getting what we want out of their pitcher. Everybody that I've talked to that has scouted him says that he lives off his fastball and he's not going to sway away from that, so that's a good advantage for us. Usually everyone is trying to throw us curve balls because of the power we have in our lineup.”
The Lions counter with an offense that generates 7 runs per game behind a .283 team batting average, .403 on-base percentage and 13 home runs. Leading hitters include Gavon Clemons (.373, 4 HRs, 32 RBIs), Hayden Donahoo (.342, 12 RBIs), Cain Kittrell (.213, 4 HR, 20 RBIs), Reece Rodgers (.306, HR, 10 RBIs), Rylan Reagan (.289, 4 HRs, 23 RBIs), Grayson Swanzy (.277, 14 RBIs), and Caleb Hernandez (.250, 8 RBIs).
On the mound, Donahoo (5-1, 1 save, 2.70 ERA, 47 strikeouts, 20 walks, 4 HBP, 47 inning), Hernandez (4-1, 3.90 ERA, 23 strikeouts, 21 walks, 30 innings), Swanzy (2-1, 7 saves, 2.70 ERA, 39 strikeouts, 25 walks, 6 HBP, 28 innings), Clemons (1-1, 1 save, 1.80 ERA, 18 strikeouts, 11 walks, 2 HBP, 19 innings) and Reagan (2-5, 1 save, 6.60 ERA, 46 walks, 27 strikeouts, 5 HBP, 28 innings) have seen the bulk of the action. The Lions own a 3.60 team ERA with 140 strikeouts and 90 walks.
“I wanted a three-game series and he wanted one game because he only has one pitcher, and I have five kids that can go,” Hancock said. “With that being said, we set up well for one game because we can keep running guys in there. If we can knock their pitcher out early, they really don't have anything behind him. If they get to our guy early, we have four more guys we can bring in.”
Saturday's winner will face either District 7-4A champion Kennedale or District 8-4A fourth seed Glen Rose in the area round of the playoffs.