It seemed as though the Lufkin Panthers were on the verge of big innings throughout all of Tuesday’s game against Oak Ridge. The Pack put runners in scoring position in five of the seven frames, but could only score in the third. That left the War Eagles with just enough breathing room to take a 4-3 win at Morris Frank Park in Lufkin.
Lufkin’s three-run third inning led to a 3-2 Pack lead, and after the Eagles picked up an earned run in the fourth and an unearned run in the fifth, the Panthers loaded the bases with one out and appeared ready to either tie the game again or perhaps take a late-game lead.
But Oak Ridge starting pitcher Justen Heuermann retired the next two hitters he faced to kill the threat; and reliever Tyler Shumpert closed the door over the last two innings to keep the Eagles, who entered the game a loss away from playoff contention, postseason hopes alive.
“It doesn’t matter who you play, you can’t strand 10 runners and leave seven of those in scoring position,” Lufkin head coach Clay Berry said. “We have to take advantage of every opportunity, and when we don’t we put even more pressure on ourselves.”
That “pressure” includes needing wins in each of the final two regular-season games before Lufkin (4-6) will have any chance to become one of District 14-5A’s playoff teams. With their win on Tuesday, coupled with a win over the Panthers earlier this season, the Eagles hold the tiebreaker should the two teams finish with identical records in district play.
Trey Cumbie led Lufkin’s offense with a 4-for-4 night that included three singles, a double, a stolen base and a run scored. Cody Chesser drove in two runs with a fourth-inning double; and Mark Jungmann drove in a run with a single in the same frame. Those three accounted for all six Lufkin hits, with Oak Ridge’s Heuermann and Shumpert combining for 10 strikeouts.
Compounding Lufkin’s misery was the way the Eagles managed to score those four runs. Oak Ridge’s Riley McKnight, the No. 9 hitter in the lineup, beat out an infield single to open the inning. The Pack misplayed Josh Smith’s sacrifice bunt attempt into a base hit, then did the same when Dylan Cyr dropped a bunt to load the bases. Panther starter Tyler Stubblefield got the next two outs, but Brandon Navarro lined a single down the right-field line to score two runners.
“It’s hard enough to give up runs on errors, but when those are mental errors, it’s even more frustrating,” Berry said. “We always make those plays, but tonight those were some of the little things that really hurt us.”
Navarro wasn’t finished working over Lufkin, reaching on an infield single in the fifth and moving to third on an outfield error. Navarro then scored on a wild pitch to give the Eagles what would prove to be their winning run.
“The most important day for us is tomorrow,” Berry said. “We have to forget this and come out ready to practice hard for the next two days, and we have to know we can win these next two games.”
Lufkin travels to Kingwood on Friday, with game time set for 6 p.m.