The last two schools to represent Region I in the Class 4A Softball State Tournament will again cross paths at 6 p.m. Friday at Abilene Christian University in a one-game regional quarterfinal showdown.
Brownwood (22-6-1), the 2016 regional champion, will be attempting to avenge last year’s season-ending loss to Vernon (21-4), which went on to compete in Austin.
The two teams also met earlier this season, with Vernon coming out on top.
On March 8 at the Graham tournament, the Lady Lions dropped a 5-4 contest in extra innings. Brownwood jumped out to an early 4-1 lead, but was unable to hang on down the stretch.
“What sticks out the most from that game is, just like last year in the playoffs, they were very aggressive at the plate, and took advantage of the first good strike they got,” said Lady Lions head coach Jessica Lynn. “They didn’t take very many strikes to let Chyanne (Ellett) get ahead in the count. That’s something we’re trying to game plan, a way to attack their aggressiveness.”
Brownwood scored three runs in the second inning against Vernon as Ashlynn Patteson singled, Ayanna Clemons doubled and Landry Holden followed with an RBI single. An RBI fielder’s choice by Yisel Mendoza plated Clemons and Ryleigh Dalleh doubled home Mendoza.
The Lady Lions tacked on another run in the third to make the score 4-1 as Patteson’s fielder’s choice bunt scored Aubrie Harris.
Down three runs, Vernon rallied with a run in the fifth and two more in the seventh — thanks to a leadoff homer and an error — to draw even, then scored again in the eighth on a bases-loaded walk to snatch the victory.
Shay Williams homered and doubled to Vernon, while Caroline Taylor and Audrey Graf finished with three hits and one RBI apiece.
“We were ahead 4-1 up until the end of the game and then we got a little sloppy on defense and we had go into extra innings and lost,” Lynn said. “But it was a lot like the playoff games last year, low scoring and good pitching from both sides. We’re just going to have to come out ready to go.”
Ellett worked all eight innings in the March 8 contest for Brownwood, yielding two earned runs on 10 hits with 15 strikeouts and a pair walks.
Offensively, Brownwood recorded eight hits — two by Dalleh and one apiece by Ellett, Harris, Patteson, Clemons, Landry Holden and Annie Gillispie.
For Vernon, Makyleigh Leija pitched two innings, allowing three runs on four hits, while Williams tossed the final six innings and surrendered one run on four hits with 13 strikeouts.
The Lady Lions ride a four-game win streak into the third round of the playoffs, with postseason victories of 8-2 over Burkburnett and 4-3 and 10-0 over Alvarado. And Lynn admitted the Lady Lions haven’t forgotten about what happened in the regional quarterfinal round last year.
“They’re excited and ready to go,” Lynn said. “Once you get to the playoffs, each round could be the last time you play with this group of girls and they’ve taken that to heart. They’ve been coming out ready to go each round, but it’s in the back of their minds, the girls that are back from last year, they want to do to Vernon what they did to us — knock them out in the third round the year after going to state.”
Vernon defeated Abilene Wylie, 4-0 and 4-3, in the bi-district round, then routed Godley, 10-1. In last weekend’s victory over Godley, Vernon led 3-0 after two innings added three more runs over the fourth and fifth innings and tacked on four more runs in the sixth.
Jade Guzman went the distance in the circle, allowing one earned run on five hits with 10 strikeouts and no walks. Offensive standouts included Guzman and Lauren Hager with three hits and two RBIs apiece, and Caitlin Brints, Avery Kinney, Shykerra Fanners and Taylor with two hits each. Brints drove in two runs, while Taylor chipped in an RBI.
“They’re a confident team, a good team, but we’re going to have to play our style of game,” Lynn said. “We have a good offense and we can hit their pitching, we got out ahead of them in the game earlier this season, we just have to stay disciplined at the plate. We got away from that a little after we scored some runs early. We also have to take advantage of the first strike just like they do and attack it and try and get lots of base runners.
“We’ve got to come out ready to go from the first pitch, and we did in the one-game playoff and both games last weekend. We’ve been able to take advantage of base runners by getting hits with runners in scoring position. You have to come ready to go from the very first pitch, score runs early and not let teams have any life or belief they have a chance. We have take control of the game early so that we can settle in and play our game instead of trying to come from behind.”
Friday’s winner will face either Fort Stockton or Levelland in the regional semifinals.