The ride of a lifetime for a group of Lufkin youngsters will have Williamsport as a final destination. And what a ride it is has been.
On Wednesday night, the local all-stars punched their ticket to the Little League World Series in the most dramatic of fashions. Clayton Wigley rocked a solo homer over the center field wall in the top of the sixth inning and the Lufkin defense answered the call in the bottom half, sealing a dramatic 2-1 win over the McAllister Park All-Stars in the Southwest Regional championship game.
With Lufkin reeling after allowing an unearned run in the fifth inning, McAllister Park had all of the momentum when the flame-throwing Brennan Greer came to the mound and quickly recorded the first two outs.
Undeterred, Clayton Wigley, who came off the Lufkin bench, came up with the biggest hit of an all-star run that has been dominated by Lufkin’s bats as he got his pitch and drove it over the center field wall for a 2-1 lead.
That was just the start of a dramatic inning. In the bottom half of the inning, Hunter Ditsworth, who was stellar through five innings, had to leave the game due to surpassing the 85-pitch count on a leadoff walk.
That seemed to open the door for McAllister Park. Relief pitcher Chip Buchanan had other ideas.
After manager Bud Maddux implored Buchanan to serve up a ground ball, the youngster was up to the task as McAllister Park’s Levi Castilleja hit a grounder to Lufkin shortstop Blake Slaga. He fielded it cleanly and fired to second baseman Malcolm Deason, who made a perfect relay to finish off the double play.
Buchanan then induced a grounder to Deason, who calmly made the throw to first to seal Lufkin’s win, setting off a wild celebration in front of a large contingent of Lufkin fans.
It is Lufkin’s first ever trip to the Little League World Series after coming up one win short five seasons ago.
For much of the night, it looked like Ditsworth would singlehandedly send his team to Williamsport.
After striking out 14 batters in the regional opener, he was equally impressive against a McAllister Park lineup that had set several Southwest Regional records.
He worked the first five innings, allowing just one unearned run on three hits with eight strikeouts and a single walk to the final batter he faced.
Ditsworth also provided the only offense of the night through the first four innings when he ripped a solo shot to the opposite field in the first inning.
For much of the game it looked like that would be enough against McAllister Park pitcher Cade Smith, who was almost as impressive. He allowed one earned run on five hits and no walks to go along with eight strikeouts.
He finally got the offensive help he was seeking with the help of Lufkin’s only defensive miscue of the night.
With Lufkin holding a 1-0 lead in the fifth inning, Lucas Gary led off with a single that just grazed off Ditsworth’s glove. Cameron Anderson then laid down a bunt. When
Ditsworth tried to get the lead runner, the throw sailed past second then past the centerfielder to go to the wall. That allowed Gary to sprint all the way around from first to tie the game at 1-1.
With the potential go-ahead run at second Ditsworth struck out the next two batters then induced a groundout from McAllister Park’s biggest threat, Carson Winchester.
That led to a sixth inning that proved Lufkin’s “Thundering 13” were far from a one-man show.
In addition to the solo homers from Ditsworth and Wigley, Collin Ross had a double for Lufkin and Buchanan, Christian Mumphrey and Deason each had a single.
McAllister Park could only manage singles from Winchester, Greer and Gary.
Greer took the loss on the mound, allowing one earned run on one hit with a strikeout.
Ditsworth took the win on the mound for Lufkin, while Buchanan got the save.
Lufkin will now gear up for its first-ever trip to Williamsport. It will open the World Series on Aug. 17 at 6 p.m. against the Great Lakes winner in a game that will be shown on ESPN2.