Lufkin softball has made program history by advancing for the first time ever to the regional finals.
Their journey to get to this point has been done in dramatic fashion. The girls have faced every type of adversity to fight their way here, battling through several come-from-behind victories along the way. In the last two rounds, Lufkin has had three late-game rallies all while being down several runs.
All those rallies have one thing in common that the team calls their ‘6th Inning Juju.’
The crazy comebacks started with Hallsville in Game 2 of the regional quarterfinals. Lufkin came back from a 5-2 deficit in the 6th inning by scoring five runs to win the game 7-5. The victory allowed them to advance in the playoff run.
“It's unbelievable how we keep coming back every 6th inning,” said freshmen pitcher Smiley Radke.
“We wait until the 6th inning to do everything,” said senior outfielder Amber Griffith. “If we're down we're like ‘Okay, 6th inning guys. We got to go.’”
The ‘6th Inning Juju' struck again for the Lady Panthers in the regional semifinals.
Against North Forney in Game 1, Lufkin was down 8-0 until the 6th inning. That’s when the bats came alive to put nine runs on the board to then win 12-8.
“We try to score every inning but that 6th inning has come in time and time again, in the Hallsville series and again in the North Forney series,” said head coach Shelby Holcomb.
More adversity came the Pack's way when lead pitcher, Alex Flores, came down with a stomach bug. Her illness forced freshmen Radke to bring Lufkin back from the 8-0 hole they faced in Game 1 against North Forney. She was also on the mound to finish out the series on a winning note.
“Everybody asks if I was nervous but I wasn't. I just went out there to warm up and I felt really good to go out there and pitch,” said Radke.
“She kept the ball down low and she was humming it in there. As a freshmen throwing 60 miles per hour, you couldn't be happier,” said Holcomb.
The rallies continued when the North Forney series was forced to a Game 3.
Down 3-2, this time in the bottom of the 7th with two outs, Lufkin eventually loaded the bases for Flores to pinch-hit and get the walk-off victory with a 4-3 finish.
“We believe that we can always comeback as long as we don't give up on ourselves and keep fighting and fighting,” said Radke.
The relentless bite from the Lady Panthers starts with the instilled mindset from first-year head Coach Shelby Holcomb.
“I motivate them and I give them confidence. That's my job,” said Holcomb.
While it's been one battle after another, there's still plenty of fight in these Lady Panthers going into the regional finals.
“We made history and we don't want to stop there. We want to keep fighting and fighting. We know that we're good enough. We know and we just want to prove to everybody else we can do this,” said Griffith.
No. 4 Lufkin is set to face No. 1 Frisco in the regional final. Game 1 is Thursday at Prosper High School starting at 7 p.m. Game 2 will be Saturday at Jasper starting at 2 p.m. If necessary, Game 3 will follow right after Game 2.
Copyright 2016 KTRE. All rights reserved.