WHITEHOUSE -- The Wildcats responded very well after a disastrous defensive fourth inning. Lufkin relief pitcher Christian Stephens was just one step ahead of the rally and helped the Panthers to a 5-3 win Friday in District 16-5A competition.

Stephens was inserted into the game with one out and two Whitehouse runners in scoring position immediately after it scored its second run of the game. He allowed one run charged to the starting pitcher and then stopped a promising bottom of the fifth inning right in its tracks toward a long save effort at Wildcat Field.

"These are the best games," the senior reliever said. "Just holding that lead down, it gets you up and going. I like wins like this. It's a really big win. They're a good team. They're one of the teams we're going to have to fight with the whole season to win our district."

Left fielder Luke Rowley recorded two RBIs in Lufkin's victory.

The victory elevated Lufkin's record to 10-3 overall and 2-0 in the District 16-5A standings. Whitehouse (9-4, 1-1) fell one game back in what has been East Texas' most competitive large school league in recent years.

Whitehouse threatened once more against Stephens in the sixth frame. The reliever knocked down two batters in order but then gave up a single to center field against the nine-hole hitter and a walk before center fielder Jonathan Dewberry bailed him out by pulling down a hard liner from Tanner Roach.

Stephens closed the game with a perfect inning.

"The good thing about him is he came in throwing strikes," Panthers head coach John Cobb said. "He's got a good breaking ball and they're a fastball hitting team. We knew if he could get his breaking pitches over that he was going to be successful."

Lufkin threatened at times coinciding with Stephens' relief outing, but it did not score a run after picking up four in the top of the fourth for a 5-0 advantage.

The Wildcats committed three errors in that frame and let runners move three times via two stolen bases and one wild pitch.

With one out, catcher and ninth batter Connor Hanks started to open up what had been a 1-0 lead through three innings with an RBI double to left-center field. It scored Max Quick, who reached base on a leadoff fielding error.

Dewberry followed Hanks back at the top of the order with a sacrifice bunt Whitehouse could not get a handle on. He reached safely while Hanks took third base.

Then Dewberry helped put up the second run of the fourth inning with a stolen base attempt during Luke Rowley's at-bat. Whitehouse catcher Fiver Trimble got off a good throw to second base, but the fielder covering the base missed it and allowed Hanks to score from third base while Dewberry advanced to third.

Rowley, who recorded an RBI in the second inning, knocked in Dewberry with a hit two pitches later. He then stole second base and reached third base on Blake Lazarine's inadvertent sacrifice hit, which gave Whitehouse its second out.

Haylen Green followed Rowley up with a ground ball. An infield throwing error scored Rowley before Whitehouse finally got its third out against the eighth batter faced.

"We put some quality at-bats together there and actually hit the balls hard," Cobb said. "The pressure on the bases kind of got to them a little bit. That's kind of our philosophy. We like to attack the bases and pressure the defense as much as possible."

The Wildcats began their comeback effort with Landry Mayo's sacrifice hit to score Patty Miner in the bottom of the fourth. Brandon Rossiter was thrown out at the plate the prior at-bat.

Mason House hit an RBI double to right-center field in the fifth inning to score Roach. That triggered Cobb to go to Stephens.

Rossiter knocked in Ryan Walls four pitches later.

Lufkin starting pitcher Logan Lair got through 4 1/3 innings on 74 pitches for the win. He allowed three hits and eight total base runners.

Whitehouse will visit Chapel Hill for a non-district game Monday and resumes the district schedule Thursday at home against Corsicana just before the Easter break begins.

The Panthers host Lindale on Thursday in their next contest.

"We knew coming in that Whitehouse was going to be one of the better teams in district along with us, Corsicana and Lindale," Cobb said. "Lindale's pretty good this year with their new coach. But we knew Whitehouse was going to be one of the teams to beat along with Coriscana."

Second baseman Adrian Pena and the Panthers will face Lindale on Thursday in their next competition.

Lufkin 5, Whitehouse 3

District 16-5A
At Wildcat Field, Whitehouse

Lufkin            010    400    0    --    5    5   1
Whitehouse   000    120    0    --    3   4    4

Pitchers and catchers
  • Lufkin: Logan Lair, Christian Stephens (5) and Connor Hanks
  • Whitehouse: Landry Mayo, Ryan Walls (4) and Fiver Trimble
  • WP -- Lair
  • LP -- Mayo
  • -- Stephens
Doubles
  • Lufkin: Hanks
  • Whitehouse: Mason House