by Tina Sellers
LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - Lufkin head baseball coach Clay Berry has been a man on a mission. In 2005, he got the nod to take over a program, which in the eyes of many observers was a program hanging on by a thread. Coach Berry remembers it well, but he was not to be deterred, "First day I walked in our goal was to win another state championship," he said.
It was a lofty goal that would take a major recruiting effort, a lot of hard work and a group of players that put winning above all else. The first year was brutal recalls Berry, "We were playing in a tough district, getting beat 6 or 7 times by 1 run in the district, the kids had every reason to shutdown." But they didn't, instead it made them work harder and four years later, they made believers out of a lot of skeptical fans.
"They went to off season after that hard first season, they went back to work and out worked people, that's one of the reasons they were successful this year," Berry said. "This team wasn't afraid to fail, late in the ball game you would look in their eyes, they weren't nervous, they believed in each other. They knew something good was going to happen if they kept fighting."
Panther Booster Club president Kevin Roy watched as the players and program came into their own. "It wasn't an easy high school career. They started out when the program wasn't at its peak, but they developed into a team of competitors and winners and they know how to win. They've had a lot of success this year, but they shouldn't be satisfied as state runner up."
KTRE played the "Name Game" with radio play-by-play announcer, Gary Ivins, calling out the name of a Lufkin player and getting his reaction.
Seth Thompson "Speed. Another one that Angelina College is going to be very happy to have next year is Seth Thompson and he's just a speed demon," said play-by-play announcer Gary Ivins.
Ryan Nicholas "Guts. He plays right field. You've got a guy out there playing with a torn ACL. (The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is one of the most important of four strong ligaments connecting the bones of the knee joint.) You know, I mean most people have the surgery and they're done. This kid decided to wait until the season was over and have it done. Hug e home runs against the Woodlands. I mean he had big home runs throughout the year, without his bat, we lose to Cy Fair in round two."
Zach Marberry "Competitor. Zach Marberry to me is going to be one of the top guys we will miss because of his presence behind the plate. He was the best catcher by far in the district, he is going to be irreplaceable next year."
Colton Wynne. "Battler. Colton is a little guy that got intimidated early, but got better during the playoffs. He hit almost 400 in the playoffs. He was a sophomore then, but as the playoffs got there you're a junior now. He performed like a defensive stud all year, but in the playoffs his bat really came around and he won two or three games with his bat in the playoffs."
Carrington Byndom. "Speed. Great kid, speed, defense on base, great, maybe one of the best athletes on the team."
JP Clifton. "Laid back. A gamer. One of the biggest hearts I've ever seen. And without him, Lufkin would have gotten nowhere near Austin in the playoffs."
Chase Greening. "Winner. Another good one, just a bull dog. He reminds me of Orel Hershiser. Doesn't have a lot of heat, he's not throwing 95 mph, but all he does is get people out."
Luis DeJesus. "Battler. Big Stick. Big Stick and next year will be a senior and we will see a lot of good things out of Luis DeJesus next year."
Timmy Tang. "Boy, just another gamer you know. When the game's on the line and you need him to get on base, he got on base."
Tin Enriquez. "By far in my opinion one of the best players on the team and does a super job as well.
Cory Lyles. "Well, what I remember is we get to that last inning of that Tomball game and we finally tied it up and we get that 7th inning with Corey Lyles and what does he do but leans into a pitch and gets hit and gets on base and ends up scoring the winning run. And that's what he did for this team all year."
Colby Keeling. "Colby had some big hits, you know my guy was a pinch hitter for the most part. But boy he came in and he was a huge hit in the playoffs against Klein College that knocked in the go ahead run. A couple of other big times he got called on and made the plays that he had to. That's what I'm talking about, you've got guys on that team that don't get to play all the time, but when they're called on they show up and they show up big."
Stuart Hogue. "He didn't start all the time, but when he was called on. He's another guy that was great in a pinch. I want to say it was the Klein-Collins game, no, it was the Tyler Lee game. The second game here against Tyler Lee. Game still nip and tuck, Hogue comes in with a pinch hit in the sixth or seventh inning and drives out to right field, drives in the run and gets a double. Those kind of kids are all throughout this team.
Michael Conlin. Trent Collins. Calvin Henson. Paul Porter. "Michael Conlin, didn't play very often, they did pinch run him a lot. We had about three or four kids who didn't play a lot. Paul Porter's another one, they just came in to pinch run and you know that's what their job was. They could pinch run, they could courtesy run for the catcher or the pitcher. You know Coach Berry did a great job of utilizing the speed on the bench and you know they had a lot it. Collins came in when we needed him and was able to get some of the outs and did a fantastic job when he was called upon. You know, Conlin, Henson, and Paul Porter's another guy, those guys came in to run. Henson got to run playing with JV. Brian Roy's going to be a guy, a junior, didn't get to pitch much because he was in the bullpen. He's going to be relied upon next year to be able to keep the success rolling for the Panthers."
The 2009 season wiped out the bad memories and proved to be a great season on and off the field not only for the players, but for Coach Berry as well. "I went on a cruise right after baseball and got engaged to a wonderful lady, Marilyn Phillips. She's been real patient with me."
Looking ahead to next year, Coach Berry says the Lufkin baseball program is in good shape. "We've got a good base here. Our JV lost only one game this season, our sophomores only lost one and our freshmen were like 14 and 5. We've got great kids coming up and four starters coming back and a lot of good kids ready to step in and fill those roles."