Needing a single win to punch their ticket to Austin, the Lufkin Panthers instead ended just a few singles short. After entering Friday with a 1-0 series lead over Whitehouse, the Panthers found themselves on the wrong side of a pair of one-run defeats. The Panthers started the day with a 1-0 loss before coming up just short in a 5-4 decision to Whitehouse at Tyler’s Mike Carter Field. With the losses, Lufkin came up just one step shy of a trip to the state tournament.
Meanwhile Whitehouse, District 16-5A’s fourth-place team, clinched a spot in the state tournament. In the opener, Lufkin couldn’t find the formula of clutch hitting that had given it a spot in the regional championship as Whitehouse pitcher Ryan Walls pitched a complete game four-hitter in a 1-0 win. In a quickly moving game, Whitehouse got its only run of the game on a Zach Taylor two-out RBI single in the second inning that scored Mason House for the game’s only run.
That was just enough to win a pitcher’s duel against Logan Lair, who was almost equally impressive on the mound for the Panthers. Lair allowed that single run on four hits in taking the loss. The third and deciding game provided more offensive fireworks between the two teams. Lufkin picked up an early lead when Haylen Green delivered an RBI single in the first inning.
The lead went to 2-0 when Luke Rowley delivered an RBI single. Jonathan Dewberry, who had three hits in the game, score both early runs for the Panthers. That lead was enough for Lufkin starter Manuel Garcia until the fifth inning when the Wildcats knotted the game at 2-2 on a Clayton Pruitt two-run triple. The score stayed tied until the seventh inning when Whitehouse struck for three runs.
Connor Clark gave Whitehouse its first lead of the game on an RBI single. The Wildcats added another run on a Lufkin error and Brandon Rossiter hit a sacrifice fly for a seemingly comfortable 5-2 lead. But not surprisingly, Lufkin didn’t go down without a fight with Green delivering a two-run single to narrow the gap to 5-4. Lufkin then loaded the bases on a Dylan Murphy walk.
However, Lufkin’s season came to an end when a line drive found the shortstop to send Whitehouse to the state tournament. With the loss, the Panthers finished the season with a 28-10 record. Whitehouse (25-11) advances to the state tournament where it will meet Grapevine (33-6-2) in the semifinals at 4 p.m. on Thursday at Round Rock’s Dell Diamond. The other semifinal features San Antonio Alamo Heights (26-7) and College Station (27-14-2) at 7 p.m. The championship will be on Friday night at 7, also at Dell Diamond.