TYLER — The Cleburne Yellow Jackets left the door cracked for the Lufkin Panthers when a seventh-inning rally in game 2 fell one run short on Friday night. The Panthers spent Saturday afternoon kicking that door down.
Lufkin's Dylan Vinson pitched a complete-game two-hit shutout and the Panthers pounced on Cleburne early on their way to a convincing 6-0 win at Mike Carter Field to advance to the Class 5A Region II semifinals while the Jackets' season comes to an end.
In each of Cleburne's first two playoff rounds vs. Highland Park and Hallsville, Cleburne lost game 1 before winning games 2 and 3.
Against Lufkin in the regional quarterfinals, however, the script flipped for Cleburne as the Jackets took game 1 with a 7-3 win Thursday in Lufkin before a 7-6 loss in game 2 Friday in Cleburne moved the series to Saturday's series decider, which the Panthers were in complete control of from the first pitch to the final out.
After seeing how game 3 played out, the Jackets will likely look back at the seventh inning of their game 2 loss — when they had the bases loaded and only one out facing a one-run deficit but unable to score the game-tying run — as the moment the series swung.
Lufkin’s biggest key of the weekend came with the right arm of Vinson. With both teams having their pitching depth tested, Lufkin had an extra ace up its sleeve on Saturday afternoon.
Vinson allowed a pair of baserunners in the first inning on a walk and a single but stranded them on the corners on a groundout.
That was the first of 12 straight batters he retired as he never gave Cleburne a chance. He allowed three walks and struck out two batters.
“We saw from the first two games that they didn’t get much going unless we gave it to them,” Vinson said. “I wanted to be aggressive and make them put the ball in play and trust in the defense. They didn’t let me down.”
Lufkin played error-free defense Saturday after committing four errors in each of the first two games. Vinson got 15 groundouts with only two outs being recorded in the air.
On a hot Saturday afternoon, the Panthers’ offense went to work in the first inning.
Chip Buchanan led off with a walk before Sam Flores reached on an error. Bebo Hinojosa followed with an RBI single to the opposite field for a 1-0 lead. Flores came around to score on a wild pitch, upping the lead to 2-0.
Cleburne’s best chance came in the first inning when Cooper Schneider walked and Pedro Martinez singled. But Vinson got out of the jam and went to work from there. The Jackets didn’t get another baserunner until the fifth inning.
By then, the Panthers were in control.
Lufkin got its bats going once again in the fourth inning with Christian Mumphery leading off with a sharp single before Buchanan bunted for a single.
Mark Requena hit a grounder to first that was misplayed by the fielder before his toss sailed wide. An alert Mumphery came around to score on the play, making it 3-0.
Flores continued his hot pace with an RBI single up the middle that made it 4-0. Hinojosa later delivered a sacrifice fly that made it 5-0.
Lufkin got its final run in the sixth inning when Mumphery reached on an error and eventually scored on Flores’ fielder’s choice.
Cleburne got two runners on in the seventh inning on a Pedro Martinez walk and an Ethan Polasek single.
Fittingly, a pair of groundballs got Vinson out of the jam and sent the Panthers into the fourth round of the postseason.
Pedro Martinez took the loss for Cleburne, allowing three earned runs on three hits and five walks with a strikeout in three innings.
Mason Runnels pitched the last four innings, allowing three unearned runs on three hits and two walks with two strikeouts.
Next up for Lufkin is a regional semifinal matchup against Frisco Wakeland. Cleburne's season ends one win shy of the regional semifinals and one win shy of a 30-win season as the Jackets concluded play with an overall record of 29-10.
Sports Editor A.J. Crisp contributed to this report.