Brownwood opens season at 7 p.m. Tuesday at home against Ranger College JV

With 13 of 16 members from the 2018 Brownwood Lions baseball team returning for the coming season, experience could carry head coach Blandon Hancock’s squad a long way this spring.

But first the Lions must replace the nucleus of their pitching staff as Hayden Donahoo, Caleb Hernandez and Rylan Reagan — who ate up the majority of innings a season ago — have all graduated.

“We relied so much on those guys that graduated last year, and none of these guys that are coming back really had the opportunity to pitch a whole lot,” Hancock said.

The Lions expected Grayson Swanzy to contribute heavily on the mound, but labrum surgery during football season foiled those plans.

“Losing Grayson really hurt because he is our hardest thrower and was our closer last year, and he was going to be in a starting role this year,” Hancock said. “He won’t be able to throw the whole year, but he may be able to swing a bat toward the end of March.”

Looking to fill the void in the pitching rotation are Gavon Clemons, Hunter Leonard, Jakob Dorsett, Mason Ryden, Hunter Day, and C.J. Hanley — a transfer from Early who had to play on the JV last season.

“Most of those guys got some innings last year, but not as starters or guys that we pitched every week,” Hancock said.

If the pitching works itself out, Hancock feels this year’s squad could be his best in three years as the Lions head coach.

“We have a really good core that’s coming back,” Hancock said. “All of the seniors have signed or are going to sign to play at the next level,” Hancock said. “We should be able to score a lot of runs. Hitting should be our strength because most of these kids have been with me for three years. They know how we do things and how we want things done. They’ve been able to do that in the past and I think they’ll be able to continue to do the things that we need to be able to manufacture runs.”

With the expectations Hancock holds for the group, he’s upped the difficulty level on this year’s pre-district schedule.

“This has been the group I’ve been waiting on since I got here, they’ve been with me two or three years, so I set us up to play some pretty stout competition in pre-district,” Hancock said. “I wanted to set the pre-district schedule up to test us a whole lot. The pre-district sets us up pretty good for district and gives us an opportunity to be really good.”

The Lions open the season at 7 p.m. Tuesday when they host the Ranger College JV, then take part in the Iowa Park tournament next weekend.

“Those two districts up there usually go two to three rounds deep in the playoffs,” Hancock said. “We’ll get to see some of those teams early, which in the past we haven’t got to see them until we got into the playoffs.”

The Lions have Lorena scheduled for Feb. 25, with the Bluebonnet Classic to follow at Morris Southall Field Feb. 28-March 2.

“Lorena is ranked No. 3 in the region with Robinson and Sweeny and all those guys that are usually in the state tournament,” Hancock said. “They’re ranked right behind them in Region IV. In our tournament, Liberty Christian is the 6A TAPPS three-time defending state champion.”

The Lions also have non-district games against Gainesville, Llano, Pflugerville Connally, Clyde and 4A Top 10 Iowa Park lined up, and on April 12 — Brownwood’s first of two district byes — Argyle is on the schedule.

“Argyle in some polls is the No. 1 team in the whole nation,” Hancock said. “They have 12 Division I signees. If we’re going to make it all the way we have to make it through them.”

District 7-4A action begins April 2 at Mineral Wells, with Stephenville, Glen Rose and Godley — a state tournament qualifier a year ago — all on the schedule twice.

“We have some good teams in our district,” Hancock said. “Godley made it out of Region II last year all the way to the state tournament, but they lost eight senior starters. They return four off the team, but only one starter, but they’re good year in and year out. “Stephenville is going to play us tough regardless. Glen Rose is the same way, we’ve scrimmaged them every year but this year because we’re in the same district. They’re scrappy and never go away. Mineral Wells, back in the early 2000s they had things rolling. They have a new coach and he’s trying to get it back to how it used to be.”

Asked about the long-term potential of the 2019 Lions, Hancock said. “I honestly believe we can win the district championship just with our experience and the way these kids have played the last couple of years. Getting beat in the bi-district round by one run when we should have won it two innings before that and had a dropped ball and then the game ended on a controversial call, I think these kids are hungry to get past that. In my honest opinion I think we can go three, four, five rounds. It depends on where our pitching can take us.”