Lady Lions begin quest for district title Thursday as Burnet visits in 8-3A opener

DERRICK STUCKLY BROWNWOOD BULLETIN derrick.stuckly@brownwoodbulletin.com
Victoria Sanchez (pictured stealing second base against Abilene Wylie) and the Brownwood Lady Lions (12-4) will open the District 8-3A softball campaign at 4 p.m. Thursday when they host the Burnet Lady Dawgs (12-5).

With a roster comprised of very few seasoned varsity members, first-year head coach Jessica Lynn wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the Brownwood Lady Lions softball team. With 12 victories in their first 16 outings, however, it’s clear the Lady Lions are prepared to extend the program’s string of nine consecutive postseason appearances.

Whether or not the Lady Lions can capture the program’s four district championship in five seasons will begin to unfold today when 8-3A action begins at 4 p.m. Thursday with a visit from the Burnet Lady Dawgs.

“I’m a little surprised,” Lynn said of the Lady Lions’ success. “So far they’ve handled the pressure really well, but with district comes more pressure because this is what the season is all about. This is what gets you into the playoffs.”

District 8-3A contains two teams who appear in the most recent Texas Girls Coaches Association rankings — No. 4 Lampasas (15-2) and No. 6 Liberty Hill (13-5), the reigning 8-3A champion. Burnet also sports an impressive 12-5 record, while Gatesville was the district runner-up a season ago.

“I don’t know a whole lot about the district, just what the girls have told me, so I don’t know what to expect too much,” Lynn said. “The first time we play everybody is the first time I’ll get a real good feel for all of them. We haven’t seen any of them at any of our tournaments. Burnet was in one, but they played at pretty much the same times we did, so we didn’t really see them at all.”

Offensively, the Lady Lions head into district averaging 6.3 runs per outing while batting .367 as a team. Top performers at the plate include Alyson Finnigan (.526, 12 RBIs, six doubles), Kristen Fuentes (478, 16 RBIs, six doubles), Ashley Gomez (.439, 4 HRs, 15 RBIs, 22 runs), Shelbi Winstead (.436, HR, 8 RBIs), Tori Burkett (.400, 3 RBIs), Ashley Jones (.333, HR, 11 RBIs), Alexis Larrea (.304, HR, 3 RBIs), Kayla McFarden (.300, 2 RBIs, 10 runs), Victoria Sanchez (.295, 4 RBIs) and Danyelle Gongora (.271, 5 RBIs).

“I’m feeling pretty good about our offense,” Lynn said. “We had a really good tournament last week and we really killing the ball. Against Venus we looked a little flat, but that might have had to do with playing seven games last week. But we looked better in practice and I feel pretty confident.”

In the circle, the Lady Lions own a 1.97 team ERA. Finnigan (5-2, 1.50 ERA, 66 strikeouts, 11 walks), Gomez (3-2, 2.17 ERA, 21 strikeouts, 12 walks) and Larrea (3-0, 2.52 ERA 22 strikeouts, 17 walks) have all seen action, but in district the senior Finnigan will likely shoulder the load.

“We’ll probably use Alyson until she can’t go anymore and then bring in Ashley,” Lynn said. “With Alexis being so young, we may use her some on JV just to get her the reps.”

As for what it will take for the Lady Lions to return to the top of the district standings at the end of the regular season, Lynn stated all aspects of Brownwood’s game must mesh simultaneously.

“They don’t realize how good they can be,” Lynn said. “I feel that they can go a long way, but they’re going to have to put it all together. We’ve had a few games so far where it’s been put all together — good hitting, good defense, good pitching, everything. If we put it all together we can go a long way, but it’s going to take focus, toughness, enthusiasm, everything they have.”