Lufkin rallies for comeback win against Hornets

Mar. 12—HUNTSVILLE — Extra innings were required for the highly-touted matchup between Huntsville and Lufkin as both squads returned to Class 5A, District 16 play.

After Huntsville took an early lead, the Hornets seemed to be in control behind junior pitcher Van Brady. While the Hornets held a two-run lead heading into the final frame, a Hornet pitching change gave Lufkin life.

The Panthers rallied for two runs in the top half of the seventh to tie it up. Lufkin handed the Hornets a 4-3 loss, dropping them to 1-1 in district play.

"We didn't execute well enough. We had some baserunning errors and a play at home where if you slide, you get called safe," Huntsville head coach Justin Jennings said. "Colton wasn't as sharp tonight. He never walks two guys in a row. We certainly weren't our best tonight, but we could have won."

Against this Lufkin club, the Hornets were going to need a lot of things to go their way. Luckily for Huntsville, some did.

Lufkin struggled to corral some of the Hornets' hits, which led to the five Panther errors. But the Hornet offense was never there in the prime spots.

Huntsville had five hits through the eight innings of play and went without one after the middle of the fifth inning. The Hornets booted some runners around but struggled to get them across the plate.

Senior centerfielder Gage Dorris added to that in the bottom half of the sixth with a hard grounder that could not be contained. He scored William Barrett, but Johnnie Waddill was called out after a bit of hesitation and collision at the plate.

Outside of that, the Hornets had two other RBIs.

"Their guy was good and we weren't good enough tonight. You make those mistakes early on mixed with base running issues, you're probably not going to win, not in this district nor at this level," Jennings said. "We would have been fortunate to get out with a win."

Brady has come on the spot for Huntsville and taken over the role of becoming Huntsville's top pitcher. The junior shut down the high-powered Porter offense last week and held the Panthers in check.

In his start, Brady faced 25 batters on 90 pitches. Things were working in his favor and got out of a jam in the second inning. He sent five Lufkin batters back on strikes and allowed one walk.

"He has been a good arm for us. He's done an excellent job. He is still figuring out some things in certain situations and what pitches to throw," Jennings said. "He's got great stuff and he wasn't his best tonight."

Sophomore pitcher Colton Gilbert has been the Hornets' first guy out of the bullpen for much of last season and this one. He got his name called against Lufkin, needing to get three outs after a short warm-up.

Gilbert started shaky and gave up a walk before hitting nine-hole hitter Kaleb Hillis. After facing two batters, Lufkin already had a runner in scoring position. Leadoff hitter Cooper Knight hit a soft grounder to the left side that Gilbert couldn't play to load the bases with one out.

From there, Lufkin chipped away.

The Panthers drew another hit-by-pitch and then played small ball to drive in the winning run in the eighth.

"We had a two-run lead there in the last inning. We went to the guy that has been good for us. It just didn't go our way," Jennings said.

With the season in full swing and the district season fully underway, the Hornets will get back to playing twice a week.

For this week, it will be changed. The Hornets moved their game up a day against Kingwood Park due to the threat of weather in Huntsville on Friday.

The Hornets will square off against K-Park at 7 p.m. Thursday at the new Huntsville baseball complex. It will give them a chance to redeem themselves after the Tuesday night loss. The game will be broadcast on the 101.7 KSAM YouTube Channel.