An already memorable season is now one win away from being one for the ages. On Thursday night, the Lufkin Panthers’ baseball team moved within a single step of the state tournament by striking early and holding on for a 5-3 win over the Whitehouse Wildcats at Tyler’s Mike Carter Field. With the win, Lufkin takes a 1-0 lead in the Class 5A Region II championship round of the playoffs.
The Panthers will look to take their final step to state when they resume the series today at noon at Mike Carter Field. On Thursday night, the Panthers used a familiar formula to take the opening game with Christian Stephens providing another quality start on the mound and the Lufkin offense giving him some breathing room early. After the game was scoreless for the first two innings, Lufkin used its two-out magic to strike for a five-run margin.
With the first two batters already retired, Blake Lazarine walked and Haylen Green singled to put runners on the corners. Max Quick followed with a clutch RBI single that gave the Pack a 1-0 lead. Dylan Murphy followed with an RBI single of his own for a 2-0 advantage. Manuel Garcia was then hit by a pitch. The Panthers then got some breathing room when two runs scored on an error on a ball that was hit by Adrian Pena, bringing their lead to 4-0.
Garcia came around to score on another Whitehouse error that made the score 5-0. The Panthers eventually needed that extra bit of breathing room when Whitehouse struck back for three runs in the fourth inning on three hits and a pair of walks, narrowing the gap to 5-3. The Wildcats threatened to come all the way back in the sixth inning when it put a pair of runners in scoring position with two outs.
However, Kolten Eberlan entered the game in relief and induced a groundout to third to get the Panthers out of trouble. In the seventh inning, Eberlan worked around a one-out single to preserve the Panthers’ win. Stephens got the win on the mound for the Pack, allowing three earned runs on seven hits and four walks with a strikeout in 5 2/3 innings. Eberlan pitched the final 1 1/3 innings to get the save. He allowed no runs on a hit with no walks.
Quick led the Panthers at the plate with a pair of singles and an RBI while Pena drove in a pair of runs. Murphy had a single and an RBI and Jonathan Dewberry and Green each added a single. The Panthers return to action with today’s game at noon at Tyler’s Mike Carter Field. A third game, if necessary, would be played 30 minutes after the conclusion of the second game.