Hallsville Bats Come Alive Early To Eliminate Lufkin + Austin Blakeley Sets Single-Season Doubles Record
KILGORE -- Hallsville didn't feel like discovering if Lufkin could dig itself out of a one-game hole when the two teams reconvened Saturday at Kilgore's Driller Park.
The Bobcats put up nine runs through the first two innings and coasted to a 9-3, series clinching win in Game 2 of the Class 5A Region II quarterfinal playoff round.
"I think that the confidence level is growing right now," head coach Scott Mitchell said. "The belief that we can swing the bats. We went through a slump where we were depending on our pitchers a lot and didn't focus as much as we probably should have at the plate. Now that we're getting to this level, I can see their focus in practice at the plate better and it's paying off in the games."
It was the fourth time in seven postseason games Hallsville (26-4) simply imposed itself at the plate. The team opened the playoffs with a 10-0 win against Lindale in the first bi-district game and, down a game to Waxahachie in the area round, rallied for 7-1 and 13-1 victories last week.
The Bobcats needed 11 pitches to push across their first run.
Facing 1-0 counts, Jack Underwood and Carson Henderson hit back-to-back RBI singles. Henderson took second base on Lufkin's attempt to catch Underwood's advance to third base. The duo came home the next at-bat with the aid of a passed ball and fielding error in the same sequence for a 4-0 lead.
Colton Oberthier led the second inning off with a hit, a fielding error put Jacob Walker on base and Ty Meissner loaded the bases with one out. Blakeley hit a sacrifice fly and then Logan Bailey plated two with a chip to right field before Underwood chased Lufkin starter Jesse Philip with an RBI double.
Henderson took relief pitcher Jeb Blake's sixth pitch through the right gap for his second scoring hit of the game. The fifth run of the inning.
"It was really nice for us to come out early and get some breaks like that," Mitchell said. "Especially for (starting pitcher Colton Brasher). Colton was able to relax and get into a groove a lot quicker, knowing he had some runs on the board."
Brasher owned a one-hitter through six innings of work. He ultimately closed the game with four hits, two walks and six strikeouts.
Haylen Green was a bright spot for Lufkin (25-5).
He held Hallsville scoreless in his four innings of relief work, including getting out of a bases-loaded jam in the bottom sixth. If the Bobcats had scratched out two more runs, they would have won on the 10-run mercy rule.
Green also broke the Panthers' scoring drought by running out what could have been an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play in the top fourth. Blake Lazarine reached home from third base while Hallsville got an out at second base.
Catcher Tyler Abney broke up Lufkin's nine-inning hitless streak -- dating back to Coby Weaber's no-hitter Friday -- with a base hit to begin the third inning.
Green, Abney and pinch hitter Conner Hanks all earned base hits with one out in the game's final frame. Hanks' hit scored Green and Zac Thompson's contact translated into a sacrifice hit, plating Abney.
Hallsville's win propelled it into a meeting with Frisco Wakeland in the regional semifnal round. Wakeland won its series against Frisco Liberty in sweep fashion as well.
Times, dates and venues will be worked out between the Bobcats and Wakeland this weekend. Hallsville would prefer not to play Friday due to the school's graduation ceremony.
"We know they're good because they knocked off the No. 1 ranked team in the state last week (Rockwall-Heath)," Mitchell said. "Then they beat Friso Liberty this week, which is the team that we saw last year in the regional semifinals. I know they're really good and have a good pitching staff. We'll just see what happens."
Austin Blakeley Sets State Doubles Record In Series
A big part of Hallsville's success this season has been its on base percentage. The numbers have been getting a big boost lately from Austin Blakeley.
The senior third baseman and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi signee broke the single-season state record for doubles in Friday's win with his 25th of the season. He subsequently set the bar at 26 doubles Saturday.
"Some people have been talking about it for a while," Blakeley said. "During district, I was about six away from it. They were like, 'You're going to get it. You're going to get it.' I got one away last week and then tied it last week. I was just hoping I'd get a good fastball or a good curveball for a shot to get to second."
Blakeley broke the record in the fourth inning of Friday's game against Lufkin. He took the first pitch of the inning to left-center field, stretched it from a long single and scored on the next at-bat to give Hallsville a 1-0 lead in a combined three-hit game.
His double Saturday also came in the fourth inning.
"Is that not incredible? This kid has had an incredible, incredible season," head coach Scott Mitchell said. "We've played 30 games now and he has 26 doubles and 53 hits. Just phenomenal. He's hit the ball on the nose just about every time he's come up. It's just incredible."
Even more impressive is the timing. He has six doubles in seven postseason games.
In the only game of the span without a double, Blakeley hit a walk-off homer in Game 3 against Waxahachie.
"You've got to hit it a long ways, especially with my speed," Blakeley said. "People are going to look at the doubles record and see I have zero triples this year. I hit them to the wall and my goal is to stop at second. My goal is just to get there.
"When you think you can get it, you've got to go. It's up to you. The coaches can't tell you most of the time. You have to know your own self and your limitations."
Class 5A Region II Regional Quarterfinal Baseball Playoffs
At Driller Park, Kilgore
Game 2 -- Hallsville 9, Lufkin 3
Lufkin 000 100 2 -- 3 4 2
Hallsville 450 000 X -- 9 10 0
Pitchers and catchers
- Lufkin: Jesse Philip, Jeb Blake (2), Haylen Green (3) and Tyler Abney
- Hallsville: Colton Brasher and Colton Oberthier
- WP -- Brasher
- LP -- Philip
- Hallsville: Austin Blakeley, Jack Underwood