Lufkin Holds Off Whitehouse in Game 1 of Regional Championship Series
TYLER -- For the third time this season, District 16-5A foes Lufkin and Whitehouse squared off against one another. And with similar results.
Only much bigger stakes this time.
Lufkin used a five-run third inning, and held off the Wildcats, grabbing a 5-3 win in Game 1 of their Class 5A Region II championship series Thursday night at Mike Carter Field.
The series resumes with Game 2 at noon Friday back in Tyler with a third game, if necessary, to immediately follow. The series winner will advance to the UIL state baseball tournament at Dell Diamond in Round Rock next week.
Lufkin (28-8), the runner-up from 16-5A, has now won all three meetings with Whitehouse (24-11) -- the district's fourth-place finisher. Each of the games has been decided by two or fewer runs.
"It's two evenly matched teams," Lufkin coach John Cobb said. "(Whitehouse) being the fourth seed means absolutely nothing. I think people now realize how tough our district was."
Lufkin plated five runs -- all with two outs -- in the bottom of the third inning. After Whitehouse scored three times in the fourth, the Panthers had to fight off Wildcat rallies in the fifth, sixth, and seventh innings.
"We'll enjoy this moment tonight, flush it, and move on to the next thing tomorrow," Cobb said. "We can't just be happy and content with what we've accomplished tonight. We've got to come tomorrow re-focused, because they're fighting for their lives over there, and it's not going to be easy tomorrow."
Lufkin junior closer Kolten Eberlan came on in relief of starting pitcher Christian Stephens with two outs in the top of the sixth and the potential tying runs on second and third for Whitehouse.
Eberlan induced a groundout to end the threat, then stranded a runner at second base in the seventh to nail down the save.
"Back a couple years ago (Eberlan) was on the Little League team for Lufkin that went and played in the Southwest Regional on ESPN, so he's been there in the heat of the moment," Cobb said. "He was their stud at the time, and he's been in those moments, and that's why we like bringing him in those situations."
Stephens allowed three runs on seven hits with a strikeout and four walks in 5 2/3 innings. He stranded a pair of runners in Whitehouse's three-run fourth -- two of the seven men left in scoring position on the night for the Wildcats.
"Something bad's going to happen at some point in time," Cobb said. "You have to flush it, you have to move on. In the fourth inning, we had a lot of bad stuff happen, and Stephens was able to get out of it."
Whitehouse staring pitcher Landry Mayo retired the first two Lufkin batters in the third inning, then an eight-pitch walk drawn by Blake Lazarine ignited the Panthers' five-run outburst.
Haylen Green followed with a single to put runners on the corners, and Max Quick and Dylan Murphy connected on consecutive RBI singles. A throwing error on a grounder off the bat of Adrian Peña accounted for two more runs, and the fifth and final tally for Lufkin came courtesy of a double steal.
"Lazarine had an eight-pitch walk, and that was kind of the tipping point for Mayo, because we got his pitch-count up there," Cobb said. "(Lazarine) was able to draw the walk, and things happened from there. We put a little pressure on them on the bases, and we were able to get some runners in motion."
Lufkin sent nine batters to the plate in the inning, which included two Whitehouse errors, a walk, and a hit-by-pitch.
The Whitehouse pitching staff issued seven walks and hit three batters on the evening.
"We gave up 11 free passes today," Whitehouse coach Derrick Jenkins said. "Seven walks, three hit batters and let one guy reach on an error. They had (five) hits today. We gave up 11 guys that were free. You can't do that. You've got to go attack them. Especially in this ballpark. Balls aren't leaving the yard here. We've just got to go attack them."
Whitehouse trimmed the deficit by pushing across three runs the next inning. Brandon Rossiter roped an RBI single, Zach Taylor drew a bases-loaded walk, and Mayo brought home a run by reaching on a fielder's choice.
Despite his team's success against Whitehouse this season, Cobb was quick to point out that the Wildcats are playing on a much different level than they were during district.
"They're night and day because they're playing with a ton of confidence right now," Cobb said. "Those kids have a lot confidence in themselves, and Coach Jenkins is doing a great job over there to just come out and battle us the way they did."
Lufkin senior Logan Lair will get the start in Game 2, and will likely be opposed by Whitehouse ace Ryan Walls, who worked out of relief twice against Lufkin during the regular season.
Lufkin 5, Whitehouse 3
Class 5A Region II Championship Series -- Game 1
At Mike Carter Field, Tyler
Whitehouse 000 300 0 -- 3 7 2
Lufkin 005 000 x -- 5 5 1
Pitchers and catchers
- Whitehouse: Landry Mayo, Clayton Pruitt (4) and Connor Clark
- Lufkin: Christian Stephens, Kolten Eberlan (6) and Ben Osgood
WP -- Stephens
LP -- Mayo
S -- Eberlan