After spending 20 years as an assistant at tradition-rich Brenham, Brian Harris is taking over the reins of a Brownwood Lions baseball program that is coming off its first district championship since 2011 and a trip to the regional quarterfinal round of the playoffs.
Harris, in his first season as a head coach, is eager build upon the Lions' success of last season and turn Brownwood into a perennial baseball powerhouse. The biggest key in regard to taking the next step as a program, Harris said, is becoming masters of the fundamentals of the game.
“We've been working really hard at the fundamentals to build a foundation that we can work on all year and build off of as we progress as team,” Harris said. “That is the main thing I've bene trying to establish since I got here with the weight program and conditioning program. Now that we're in the season we started to establish the fundamentals to be able to go out and compete at a high level. We strive to do that every day, to be absolute in all three aspects — defense, hitting and pitching — every day to make sure we're successful when we get on the field.”
The Lions, who finished 17-12 overall last season, return five all-district performers from a year ago in first-team selections Reece Rodgers, Jakob Hataway and pitcher Jakob Dorsett, along with second-team choices Kris Hobbs and Mason Ryden.
Rodgers batted .463 with one home run, 12 RBI, a pair of doubles, 26 runs scored and 15 stolen bases; Hataway posted a .268 batting average with a double, six RBI, and 12 runs scored; Dorsett notched a 3.58 ERA with 65 strikeouts and 37 walks in 59.2 innings; Hobbs hit .410 with 15 RBI, four doubles and a triple; and Ryden had a 7.88 ERA with 29 strikeouts and 26 walks over 30.2 innings.
Hunter Day also returns and will have an expanded role this year, as will Isaac Pena and Aiden Bailey.
Varsity newcomers to watch include Landon Harris, the son of Coach Harris, as well as Kyler Judkins, Byron Foster, Baylor Tidwell and Trynten Slaughter.
Athleticism, arms and experience are among the greatest strengths for the Lions heading into the season.
“We've got guys that are throwing strikes, they don't have big arms, but they know how to pitch and understand the game,” Harris said. “We're also really athletic and have some guys that can run, they have some speed, which is always helpful. We also have some guys that are experienced when it comes to the game of baseball and you can tell they've been playing for a while.”
As for areas where Harris would like to see improvement, he said, “Our fundamentals are not quite as strong as I'd like them to be, that's why we work on them every day. We do have a few guys that are inexperienced, but they have love for the game, passion for the game, and they work hard at it every day to get better.”
The season opener is currently slated for 7 p.m. Monday at Breckenridge, but that game could be modified to a scrimmage with several members of the Buckaroos roster still competing for the basketball team in the playoffs.
Brownwood will definitely see live action Thursday, Feb. 27 and Saturday, Feb. 29 at the Liberty Hill tournament, where the Lions are slated to battle Northeast Early College and Odessa High the first day along with La Grange and Liberty Hill the second. The Lions' home opener follows March 3 against Abilene High before Brownwood heads back to Liberty Hill for another tournament March 5 and 7. The Lions venture to Taylor March 10 and then take part in the Bowie tournament March 12-14. A home doubleheader with Monahans is slated for March 17 with a trip to Abilene Cooper March 24 serving as the pre-district finale. The Lions also have an April 18 home date with Granbury scheduled after district begins.
“Improvement is the main thing,” Harris said when asked of the pre-district objectives. “It's extremely hard to be playing really well early. And I don't want to make a lot of excuses but the weather has really knocked us down. We've been on our field maybe four or five times and we haven't been on there two days in a row. We've worked on defense in the outfield, hit in the cages, and we've been in the turf room, so we have places where we can get work done.
“But we have to get our arms strong, get in shape and get better at the fundamentals. We want to be hitting on all cylinders when district rolls around.”
As for the District 7-4A race, Harris expects Glen Rose and Stephenville to be the primary threats to a Brownwood repeat. The district slate will follow a new format this year as the Lions host, then visit Stephenville March 31 and April 3; visit, then host Mineral Wells April 7 and 9; visit, then host Glen Rose April 14 and 17; and visit, then host Godley April 21 and 24.
Regarding a Lions' district championship repeat and beyond, Harris said, “What's going to determine how far we go is if they can buy into their skill sets, buy into who they are, and buy into the philosophy. We have three guys we can put on the mound right now that will make use competitive. I've always been of the mindset that if you throw strikes and play fundamentally sound defense, you're going to be in every game. If they can buy into those things and put pressure on defenses with hit and runs, bunts, and do those things, we're going to be extremely competitive.”