Spring Review: Top Five Moments of the Baseball + Softball Season
East Texas is no stranger to success on the diamond, either in baseball or softball. But 2013 was an incredible year for both sports in the region.
We had four softball teams -- Lufkin Hudson, Mineola, Garrison and Beckville -- qualify for the state softball tournament, while Whitehouse, Pleasant Grove, Hughes Springs and Carlisle gave the area four baseball teams at state.
And there were plenty of great moments along the way.
Our top five moments of the baseball and softball season:
5. Carlisle's Gunner Baker's 15-Strikeout Perfect Game
You could write a book about the high school career of Carlisle's Gunner Baker. And who knows? Someday, somebody might.
One of the chapters would focus on a night when Baker had everything working on the mound, so much so his opponent never put the ball in play.
On March 22, Baker did something you'll never see in the Major Leagues, minors or college baseball. And rarely does it happen in high school -- a perfect game in which every opposing hitter is retired on strikes.
So it didn't go the standard seven innings -- Carlisle's offense made sure of that with 15 runs. That still didn't change the fact that every Gary hitter came up to the plate only to head back to the dugout after striking out.
“He had it working that day,” said Carlisle coach Wesley Colley. “I felt like we had a chance to be very dominant and get a lot of K’s, but I had no idea he could come out and throw a perfect game. He had them on their heels all day long; it was a great thing to watch.”
Baker didn't stop there, throwing two no-hitters in his next two starts. He finished the season 14-0 with a 0.24 ERA and 177 strikeouts in 88 1/3 innings, earning first-team all-state honors and an all-star game selection by the Texas High School Baseball Coaches Association.
And just this week, Baker was selected by Collegiate Baseball magazine as a first-team Louisville Slugger All-American.
4. Squeeze Bunt Decides Series Between Softball Powers
It's rare that teams the caliber of Henderson and Mineola meet so early in the playoffs -- the third round.
But that was the case when these two area softball powers, who each made the state tournament the year before, squared off in the Class 3A Region II quarterfinals.
The series, which went the full three games, certainly lived up the hype.
Henderson, the defending 3A finalists, took the opener 5-3 before Mineola fought back to seven the series with a 7-4 victory.
In Game 3, Henderson jumped out to a 2-0 lead after three innings, but Mineola tied things up with a pair of runs in the fourth. And that's where it stood until the ninth inning.
Mineola's Ali Galaz began the bottom of the ninth with a single, moved to second on Manda Wilmoth's sacrifice bunt and reached third on a passed ball.
In stepped Kassy Skinner, who dropped down a bunt as Galaz was breaking toward home. Henderson pitcher Tiarra Davis, a Texas signee, scooped up the ball and flipped it home, but Galaz slid just under the tag of Henderson catcher Jessica Thomas for the game-winning run.
“I thought, ‘I have to lay this down.’ This is for our team and for our season,” Skinner said after the game.
Mineola went on to defeat Frisco Lone Star and district rival Van to reach its second consecutive state tournament.
3. Whitehouse Reaches First-Ever State Tournament
Whitehouse has had some great high school players over the years, but never had a team quite like the one in 2013.
After being eliminated in the fourth round of the playoffs by eventual state champion Rockwall-Heath in 2012, the Wildcats had only one goal this year: make it to state.
Whitehouse's postseason journey actually began with a district playoff to decide the No. 1 seed from 16-4A, which the Wildcats claimed with a 13-3 rout of Corsicana.
It was more of the same after that. Whitehouse took down Red Oak, Sulphur Springs, Hallsville, Prosper and Frisco Liberty without losing a game in the five best-of-three series. Even more impressive, Whitehouse scored at least six runs in all 10 victories.
But it was Whitehouse's 1-2 pitching combination of juniors Patrick Mahomes and Ryan Cheatham that propelled the Wildcats over the final hurdle.
In the regional finals against Frisco Liberty, Mahomes and Cheatham combined to allow only one run in 14 combined innings. In the series opener, Mahomes fired a one-hit shutout with eight strikeouts, needing only 75 pitches.
“It’s indescribable,” said Cheatham after his team's 6-1 win in the Game 2 clincher. “It’s a dream come true to get there with this team. They feel like a family. It feels great.”
Whitehouse dropped a 3-2 heartbreaker to perennial power Corpus Christi Moody in the Class 4A semifinals, but ended the best season in school history with a 31-9 record.
"We’re going to change this program to what it is right here … we’re going to start making a trip up here more often," said Whitehouse coach Derrick Jenkins after the loss to Moody. "And it starts with guys like this getting things going.”
2. Zach Brightwell Pitches Carlisle to State Title
The third man on Carlisle's vaunting pitching staff took center stage in the Class A state championship game earlier this month in Round Rock.
After Carlisle was forced to use its top two starting pitchers -- Gunner Baker and Shadow Sanders -- in its eight-inning semifinal win the day before, the state title was left to junior Zach Brightwell, who'd pitched just one inning in the playoffs.
Brightwell went the distance, allowing one unearned run on just three hits in a 6-1 Carlisle win over Stamford, which gave the Indians their first-ever state title. Brightwell struck out seven and walked only two, earning championship game Most Valuable Player honors.
“All my pitches were working, and my defense was working behind me,” Brightwell said afterwards. “Obviously, the offense was working as well. It all was perfect.”
The dominant effort came just one day after Carlisle fell behind 4-0 in the first inning against Weimar before rallying for an extra-inning win in the semifinals.
“It takes a little bit more pressure off of you, it’s a lot easier with any ball club,” Carlisle coach Wesley Colley said after the championship win. “But our kids are relaxed most of the time. We never pressed much (in the semifinals) even though I was a little shell-shocked.”
1. Lufkin Hudson Holds Off Mineola For Another Title
The Lufkin Hudson Lady Hornets seemed poised for a second consecutive Class 3A state softball title after taking a 12-2 lead on Mineola to bottom of the seventh in the state final.
And after the first two Mineola hitters of the inning were retired in order, the only thing left was the celebratory dogpile.
That was put on hold, then put in serious jeopardy.
Kassy Skinner singled to center with two strikes, which was followed Britney Johnson's RBI triple that cut the deficit to 12-3. Rikkilyn Hass' single scored Johnson, and Marisa Ledkins' single moved Hass to second.
Morgan Catron then hit a grounder to Hudson shortstop Bryli Lee, who tried to apply the tag on courtesy runner Raven Johnson, but the ball was jarred loose to create a bases-loaded situation. Jade "Sister" Green unloaded them with a three-run double that closed the gap to 12-7. Green then advanced to third and scored on a pair of passed balls to cut the deficit to four.
Ali Galaz walked and then scored on Manda Wilmoth's RBI double, cutting Hudson's lead to 12-9. Maddie Wood was hit by a pitch and Skinner walked to load the bases and bring the potential winning run to the plate in Johnson.
Johnson smoked a grounder to right side that appeared destined for the right-field corner for a game-tying double or triple, but Hudson first baseman Alyssa Dotson knocked it down and beat Johnson to the bag at first for the state championship-clinching out.
“The hardest thing to do is to repeat,” said Hudson coach Jimmy Eby after it was all over. “We had a huge target for the whole state of Texas. We were the defending state champs, so we knew we had a target on our backs. We knew that we were going to get everybody’s best. And it was a little bit of relief knowing that it’s done, it’s over and let’s go enjoy two in a row.”