TYLER -- Lufkin doesn't have the record it did last season, but, in some ways, head coach John Cobb thinks his 2017 squad compares favorably to a team that got within one game of a state tournament berth last year.

Cobb's reasons were on display in Friday's 10-6 win against Rockwall-Heath at Tyler's Mike Carter Field. The Panthers outscored Heath 8-1 through the game's final two innings in a fairly major upset to start their Class 6A bi-district series.

"It's crazy in the fact of how different this year's team is to last year's team in every aspect of the game," Cobb said before the Lufkin bus rolled 87 miles home for about nine hours of relaxation. "From hitting to base running, pitching to defense, the emotion they bring to the dugout. We lost 12 seniors and only truly brought back three guys who saw playoff experience last year. It's been a huge learning experience for them day in and day out.

"I also think that playing in our district with Oak Ridge, The Woodlands, College Park, Montgomery and Conroe helped. It's one of the toughest districts in the state. It's a dogfight every night in our district. I think it prepared us very well for Heath. There's just not a lot of separation from top to bottom."

Lufkin Tanner Green winds up for a pitch.
Starting pitcher Tanner Green took the win on the mound for Lufkin.

Lufkin (15-14) jumped from Class 5A to 6A in the University Interscholastic League's most recent realignment process. That forced it out of a cozy all-East Texas 5A district.

Since there are only four 6A high schools within the region, the group of four got divvied up between Houston and Dallas area schools. Lufkin locked up fourth place in its Houston-centric District 12-6A.

Houston won Friday.

Not only did the Panthers win, Conroe Oak Ridge swept Tyler Lee from Heath's District 11-6A by a combined score of 13-1 in a double-header.

The Woodlands beat North Mesquite, 16-0, in Game 1 of that series.

Rockwall saved some face for 11-6A with an 11-1 win against College Park in the opening game of those two teams' series.

But Heath (27-7) and Rockwall, both representatives of the Dallas area, are supposed to be the cream of the crop in the Houston-Dallas meetings. Those two teams entered the playoffs having won 13 of 14 district games, splitting games against each other.

Heath, ranked fifth among 6A teams in the final TxHighSchoolBaseball.com poll, looked the part for five innings. It owned a 5-2 lead against the Panthers before its wheels came off.

Lufkin managed to send 11 batters to the plate in the top of the sixth toward five hits, a hit-by-pitch, a defensive error and a five-spot inning. Two of the Panthers' three outs were sacrificial.

Heath made it a 7-6 game in the bottom of the sixth with Josh Truman's RBI, but Lufkin added three more runs in the seventh. Dylan Murphy closed the door in the bottom seventh with three consecutive outs after giving up a lead off single.

Tanner Green earned the win on the mound for Lufkin despite a 30-pitch, three-hit and three-run first frame. He recovered for five complete innings while allowing five runs on seven hits before turning the game over to Murphy just after the Panthers put up their go-ahead inning.

Heath ended up using four pitchers in spite of left-handed starter Kaden Krowka's solid four complete innings and one at-bat in the fifth. Two of three right-handed relievers were responsible for eight of 10 runs.

"I honestly feel like we came out not ready to play," Cobb said. "Fortunately, we kind of were able to create a groove. Green kind of got into a groove and mixed some speeds on them. Once he settled in, that kind of changed everything from an emotional standpoint in the dugout. I thought he did a great job. He didn't have his good stuff, but he still found a way after everything went wrong."

The Lufkin-Heath series will conclude today at Mike Carter Field. Game 2 is scheduled for 1 p.m. and Game 3, if necessary, will begin 30 minutes after the conclusion of the second game.

Dallas Jesuit or Sachse will be waiting in the next round. That series is tied at one game apiece and concludes today.

"We're going home and turning around," Cobb said. "We were planning on taking batting practice in the field, but we're probably going to scratch that so we can get an extra hour of sleep. We'll get here a little later. But, hopefully, these guys have learned something from tonight and will bring that fight, energy and passion. Hopefully, we'll find a way to come out on top."

Lufkin Clayton Gesford scores a run.
Clayton Gesford crosses the plate for one of two scores in Friday's contest. Game 2 of the Lufkin-Heath series begins today, 1 p.m. at Mike Carter Field in Tyler.

Lufkin 10, Rockwall-Heath 6

Class 6A Bi-District Series
At Mike Carter Field, Tyler

Lufkin          010    015   3    --    10     15     2
Heath          301    101   0    --      6      9     2

Pitchers and catchers

  • Lufkin: Tanner Green, Dylan Murphy (6) and Max Quick
  • Heath: Kaden Krowka, Rece Gustafson (5), Lane Hunt (6), Clay Finnegan (7) and Cole Stillwell

WP -- Green
LP -- Gustafson
SV -- Murphy


Lufkin: Dillon McDuffie
Heath: Cody Cleveland, Chris Tuefel


Lufkin: Green, Max Quick

Home Runs

Heath: Canaan Smith

More From East Texas Sports Network