ABILENE — The Brownwood Lions’ postseason run ended almost exactly as it began, but the ride in between will be one the players, fans and coaches carry with them well past 2007.
The Lions’ six-game playoff winning streak reached its conclusion as the tradition-rich Highland Park Scots put the finishing touches on Brownwood’s campaign with a 12-0, five-inning victory Saturday night at Abilene Christian University’s Crutcher Scott Field.
A trip to the postseason wasn’t expected for the Lions (22-12) — who returned just one starter from last season’s squad — and a berth in the Region II-4A semifinals seemed like the wildest of dreams, especially after Brownwood dropped its first playoff game, 12-0, to Waxahachie in a best-of-three bi-district series.
But the Lions displayed their resiliency through the bi-district, area and regional quarterfinal rounds en route to accomplishing a feat matched only by one other team — the 1990 squad — in the 23-year history of the program, reaching the fourth round of the playoffs.
“Nobody wanted this to happen at all, but nobody on our team can hang their heads,” said senior pitcher/shortstop/left fielder Mason Ellis. “Nobody expected us to be here. Next year you’ll see a bunch of people out here for baseball. It won’t be just a football town.
“I think we did an unbelievable job coming back with one returning starter. The underclassmen did a wonderful job of helping the seniors lead, too. I’m so happy right now I’m not even emotional.”
Almost the entire lineup will return next season as the only senior starters the Lions will be missing are Ellis, third baseman Jonathan White and second baseman Brett Barrow.
“We’ve got a lot coming back next year and we’re going to be a team to deal with for a while,” said Lions second-year head coach Scotty Nichols. “I told the guys to keep this feeling with them, that hurt, but don’t be ashamed of what happened tonight. We played extremely hard and we fought until the end.”
Highland Park (33-9) picked up its 19th win in the last 20 games and will face District 10-4A rival Mesquite Poteet (32-4) for the right to advance to state next weekend. The two teams split their district battles.
Scots pitcher Evan Blakely, who has signed with UT-Pan American, limited the Lions to two hits, walked just two batters and struck 10 in five innings of work. Brownwood had scored 44 runs in its previous six games.
“(Blakely) wasn’t overpowering with his fast ball, but his breaking balls were keeping us so off-balanced that his fast ball looked even faster,” Nichols said. “We had a lot of strikeouts and the balls we did hit were right at them. We just didn’t get the hits tonight.”
Meanwhile, Highland Park finished with nine hits off Brownwood’s combination of Shelby Miller, Garrett Goodwin and Ellis. The Lions had allowed an average of 3.3 runs per game during their streak.
Will Russell was 3-for-4 with five RBIs, Joey Hainsfurther went 2-for-4 with three RBIs and Dutch Crews was 1-for-4 with four RBIs.
Russell’s two-out, two-RBI double in the top of the third inning opened the scoring right after a Brownwood relay throw from Jason Maldonado to Ellis to Chase Holmes gunned down Nathan Venz at the plate.
Leading 2-0 with one out in the top of the fourth, seven straight Scots reached base and six scored as the Lions fell into an 8-0 hole.
Allen had a three-run double in the inning, Hainsfurther drove home two with a single and Crews picked up an RBI on a bases-loaded walk — one of six issued by Lions pitchers.
Hainsfurther’s RBI single in the top of the fifth increased Highland Park’s lead to 9-0 before Crews cleared the bases with a three-run triple for the final 12-run margin.
Ellis and Miller singled with two outs in the first and fourth innings, respectively, for Brownwood’s two hits, while Barrow and Maldonado drew walks in the bottom of the fifth.