A postseason run that essentially started as a sigh of relief now has historic implications for the Brownwood Lions baseball program.
With their eight-year playoff drought behind them and bi-district and area championships to their credit, the Lions could equal their deepest postseason penetration in nearly 20 years if they get past the Midlothian Panthers in this weekend’s Region II-4A quarterfinals playoff series.
Game 1 between the Lions (20-11) and Panthers (20-7) is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. today at Weatherford College’s Roger Williams Ballpark. Game 2 will take place at 1 p.m. Saturday at the same location, with Game 3, if needed, to follow 30 minutes after Game 2’s completion.
With a series victory this weekend, Brownwood would make only its second trip to the fourth round of the playoffs in the last quarter-century. The last time the Lions got past the third round was in 1990 when they reached what was then the state quarterfinals as only
two teams from each district advanced to the postseason. Andrews prevented the Lions from reaching the state tournament by winning a best-of-three series for the Region I-4A championship.
The Lions are making their first appearance in the third round of the playoffs since the 1998 campaign, when Brownwood peaked at No. 3 in the state rankings and strung together 17 consecutive regular season wins. But Sherman put an end to the Lions’ season in a one-game regional quarterfinals playoff, 4-2.
Brownwood also advanced three rounds deep twice during its streak of seven consecutive playoff appearances from 1989-1995, which included five district championships. The Lions qualified for what was then the regional semifinals in 1989 and again in 1993, when they had a first-round bye.
But the focus of the 2007 Lions is solely on the present, not where they could rank compared to Brownwood’s teams of the past. Head coach Scotty Nichols stated his troops intend to play with the same laid-back approach that has gotten them this far.
“We need to stay relaxed and right now we are,” Nichols said. “We’ve had a good few days of practice and we just need to approach these games the same way we have been. We play better when we’re relaxed and not tense or uptight. We’re going to play as hard as we possibly can with lots of emotion and we’ll see what happens. Win or lose, we’re going to give it all we’ve got.”
Brownwood, which carries a four-game win streak into tonight’s series opener, has displayed all the characteristics associated with championship caliber clubs during its current run. Clutch pitching performances, the occasional dazzling defensive play and timely hitting have all made appearances over the last two weekends for the Lions.
The Lions pitching staff of Shelby Miller, Garrett Goodwin and Mason Ellis have surrendered an average of just three runs per game over the last four contests. Aside from a three-error inning in the second game against Dallas Hillcrest last weekend, the defense has shown steady improvement as well.
“Anybody that’s seen us play in the playoffs or during district knows our defense and pitching has come a long way,” Nichols said. “Mason didn’t pitch much in district, but he’s really come on and been a great senior leader and help for us in the playoffs. Of course Shelby’s done well and thrown a lot of strikes and Garrett is a good off-speed and control pitcher.
“Pitching and defense will keep you in any ball game. We just have to throw some strikes and make good things happen.”
The offense has also come up with critical hits and most of have been in dramatic fashion. Ellis crushed a pair of home runs to spark Saturday’s win over Hillcrest, Miller was 5-of-7 and hit for the cycle with five RBIs as the Lions roared past Waxahachie twice on May 4, and catcher Chase Holmes and third baseman Jonathan White have provided crucial two-out RBI base hits this month.
Right fielder Tanner Vaughn and first baseman Parker Taylor — the top
two batters in the order — have also played vital roles in Brownwood’s 26-run output over the past four games as they have set the table for the heart of the Lions’ order.
But the biggest key to Brownwood’s offensive success has been taking advantage of the opportunities presented and not leaving runners stranded on base in bunches.
“In district we left a lot of runners on base with pop outs or ground outs or strikeouts,” Nichols said. “In the playoffs, though, when we’ve gotten runners to second and third base we’ve either gotten singles to get them home or put the ball in play and the other teams have booted it. Either way we get the runs in we’ll take them. We’ve been blessed in the playoffs to get those runs in and hopefully it’ll continue this weekend.”
While the Lions have competed in five playoff games, Midlothian comes into the series having played a total of five innings of postseason ball. The Panthers, who received a first-round bye for winning District 15-4A, defeated Dallas Woodrow Wilson, 10-0, in a one-game area playoff last week.
Midlothian pitchers Waynne Warren and Justin Godwin combined to toss a no-hitter against Wilson (14-12), while the Panther offense took advantage of seven errors by scoring six runs over the first two innings.
“I think that gives us a little bit of an advantage,” Nichols said. “Midlothian is accustomed to going deep in the playoffs, but we’ve got a few more games under our belts. Maybe they’ll come into the game lackadaisical or nonchalant and we can take advantage of that.”
According to their most recent statistics published in the Dallas Morning News, the Panthers own a .284 team batting average and a 2.62 team ERA.
Four Midlothian pitchers recorded at least three victories on the mound — Godwin and Jarred Barr are both 4-1, Warren is 3-0 and Kyle Fricke is 3-1. Barr leads the team with 43 innings pitched and owns a 1.79 ERA with 53 strikeouts. Warren has tossed 32.2 innings and has a 1.71 ERA with 33 strikeouts. Fricke possesses a 2.27 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 24.2 innings, while Godwin has a team-best 1.46 ERA and 23 strikeouts in 24 innings.
“There’s no doubt they have one of the better staffs we’ve seen all year,” Nichols said. “Their pitchers throw a lot of strikes and a lot of off-speed stuff. They’re going to try and get you in a situation where you’re swinging at pitches you don’t want to swing at, so we have to be disciplined at the plate, have a good approach at the plate and not chase anything that helps their pitchers out.”
Offensively, five Panthers own batting averages of .300 or better — Tanner Putty (.441, five RBIs and five stolen bases), Nathan Wolf (.397, four triples, 21 runs, three RBIs, 10 stolen bases), Jerrod Spillers (.328, seven RBIs, 11 runs, six doubles), Ryan McElhaney (.315, seven RBIs) and Warren (.314, nine RBIs).
The top run producers for Midlothian are Barr (.273, four home runs, 18 RBIs), Cody Neef (.247, one home run, 19 RBIs) and Truett Teague
(.220, 12 RBIs).
“They’re going to put the ball in play, they lay down the bunts and they hit the baseball well,” Nichols said. “That’s what we want them to do. We don’t want to be a team that relies on strikeouts, we want our defense to make plays behind our pitchers and keep them fresh. We’re going to have to play with great effort at all positions on our team and I have no doubt we will.”
The most recent common opponent between the Lions and Panthers is Waxahachie. While Brownwood took two-of-three from Waxahachie to end the Indians’ season, Midlothian suffered two of its three district losses at the hands of Waxahachie.
“We’ve talked about that with the guys and we’re not looking at it at all,” Nichols said. “We’re both 0-0 and we’ll see what happens.
“We’re just going to have to stay calm. Whether it’s a 0-0 game or a 9-9 game, it’s going to be a battle all the way through. They’re going to be a real good baseball team and we’re going to have to play fundamentally sound baseball.”