It was a good year for sports in East Texas.
But the top story of the year was without a doubt the Lufkin Little League team. The group of 12- and 13-year-olds captured the hearts of not only East Texas but the entire state and, eventually, the nation.
The team dominated the early rounds of tournament play and made its way to the Southwest Regional.
The competition got tougher, but Lufkin still swept its way through the competition, including two 1-run wins over Texas West (San Antonio). Lufkin rallied from a 7-0 deficit in the first meeting with Texas West to take an 11-10 win in seven innings.
In the Southwest Regional Final, it was a solo home run by Clayton Wigley in the top of the sixth inning that lifted Lufkin to a 2-1 victory over Texas West, sending the program to the Little League World Series in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania, for the first time.
The “Thundering 13” — as they became known for their power display at the plate — won their first two games at the Little League World Series — 5-1 over Great Lakes and 6-3 over New England.
After a 2-1 loss to Southeast, Lufkin took a 14-4 win over New England to advance to the United States Championship.
Down 5-0 against Southeast, Lufkin rallied and used a two-run home run by Mark Requena in the top of the sixth inning to take a 6-5 victory.
In the Little League World Series Championship, Lufkin had first-inning home runs by Chandler Spencer and Hunter Ditsworth to take a 2-0 lead, but Japan went on to take a 12-2 victory.
Members of the Lufkin Little League team were Wigley, Ditsworth, Spencer, Christian Mumphery, Malcolm Deason, Zach Phipps, Chip Bucahanan, Mark Requena, Blake Slaga, Collin Ross, Charlie Deaton, Lance Modisette and Kolby Kovar. Coaches were Bud Maddux, Malcolm Deason and Ryan Deaton.
Here are some other notable sports stories from the area in 2017:
Lufkin football advances to fourth round of playoffs
Lufkin not only advanced past the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2012, but the Panthers won three playoff games for the first time since 2005 and posted an 11-win season.
Lufkin went 8-2 in the regular season and then opened the playoff with a 28-7 win over Rockwall-Heath.
The Panthers then defeated Richardson Pearce 35-18 before taking a 14-11 win over Spring Westfield.
Lufkin’s run came to an end with a 33-32 loss to Longview at Stephen F. Austin’s Homer Bryce Stadium.
Lufkin boys’ basketball makes run
Lufkin opened the playoffs with a 57-55 win over Mesquite.
In the area round against Richardson Berkner, Lufkin overcame a 30-19 deficit in the third quarter on the way to a 56-48 win.
In the third round, Lufkin had a matchup with No. 3 Dallas Skyline, which was led by Marcus Garrett, who is now at Kansas.
Garrett hit the go-ahead bucket with two seconds remaining as Skyline eliminated Lufkin with a 44-42 decision.
Diboll girls’ basketball advances to regional tournament
The Lady Jacks advanced to the regional tournament for the first time since 2009 with an 80-76 win over Silsbee.
At the regional tournament, Diboll dropped a 61-51 decision to Madisonville.
Mia Williams — the All-Angelina County MVP — averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds per game to help lead Diboll’s run. She eventually signed with Angelina College.
Central softball advances to regional semifinals
The Lady Bulldogs swept New Waverly, East Bernard and Corrigan-Camden with shutouts in five of the six games to advance to the regional semifinals.
Central fell to Little River Academy in two games — 5-4 and 5-0.
Central returns several key players from that team, and the future also includes seventh-grader Brenom Brown, who committed to Texas A&M University on Thursday.
Hudson boys’ soccer advances to regional tournament for first time in school history
The Hornets had been adding new accomplishments for the past few years. In 2017, they completed a new milestone with their first trip to the regional tournament, thanks to a 2-1 victory over Waco La Vega.
Hudson lost to Houston Wheatley 7-1 in the regional semifinals. Wheatley was eventually ruled ineligible for the state tournament, and Houston Washington was awarded the berth in its place.
Dez Bryant sets Cowboys’ record for touchdown catches
The former Lufkin Panther used a 13-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter of the Cowboys’ 38-14 win over Washington on Nov. 30 to become the Cowboys’ leader in touchdown catches with 72.
Bryant now has 73 touchdown catches in his career.
Bryant also returned to Lufkin in July for a citywide barbecue and kickball game.
Kelsee Selman, Haylen Green and Brighman Hill advance to respective College World Series
Former Hudson Lady Hornet Kelsee Selman finished her college career at Baylor with a trip to the Women’s College World Series. Selman went 24-9 with a 1.86 ERA with 200 strikeouts.
Former Lufkin Panthers Haylen Green (TCU) and Brigham Hill (Texas A&M) both qualified for the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska.
Trey Cumbie drafted by the Astros
The former Lufkin Panther was chosen in the 38th round by the Houston Astros.
Cumbie elected to stay in school at the University of Houston and is already receiving preseason accolades for the upcoming season.
Keke Coutee declares
for the NFL Draft
On Dec. 24, former Lufkin Panther Keke Coutee announced that he would declare for the 2018 NFL Draft.
The Texas Tech receiver caught 93 passes for 1,429 yards and 10 touchdowns this season.
Marco Maldonado wins Jack Nicklaus Award
Former Lufkin High School golfer Marco Maldonado received the 2017 Jack Nicklaus National Player of the Year award while playing for Tyler Junior College. Maldonado won six tournaments as a sophomore and also had three additional tip 10 finishes. He finished fourth at the NJCAA Division II National Tournament.
Hudson’s Christina Hernandez, PCA’s Tina Douglas, Groveton’s Dawson Chumley win state track and field titles
Hernandez won her final high school race with a gold medal in the 1,600-meter run at the state meet. Hernandez placed second in the 3,200-meter run at state.
Douglas won her second straight gold medal in the high jump in Class 2A with a height of 5-7.
Groveton’s Dawson Chumley won the high jump in Class 2A and placed fifth in the long jump. He also qualified for state in the 110-meter hurdles.
Hudson’s Payton Davis — a two-time gold medalist in the 400-meter dash — placed third in the event as a senior.
Huntington’s Torie Comeaux, Cora Ray and Alyssa Dickerson; PCA’s Zach Hamilton and Kade Murry; Corrigan-Camden’s Jaylon Williams; Groveton’s Britt Bergman and two Groveton relay teams also advanced to state.
Huntington’s Hannah Flynt advances to state swim meet
Flynt became Huntington’s first swimmer to qualify for the state meet, advancing in the 100-meter breaststroke.
Area runners advance to state cross country meet
Huntington and Central’s boys teams, along with Hudson’s Alex Brown and Zavalla’s Tyler Broderick qualified for state.
PCA’s Jennifer Ha, Hudson’s Kristina Johnson advance to state in tennis
Ha became the first PCA tennis player to advance to state. Johnson earned a bronze medal at state.
Hudson girls, Central boys qualify for state golf tournament
Both the Hudson girls golf team and Central boys golf team qualified for the state tournament in 2017.
Angelina College Roadrunners advance to conference semifinals
In head coach Kyle Manary’s first season, the Roadrunner basketball team won 22 games and advanced to the semifinals of the Region XIV Tournament.
Groveton reaches state baseball tournament
The Groveton Indians defeated Woden in the regional finals to advance to the state tournament for the first time in program history.
Natasha Mack transfers to Angelina College
Former Lufkin Lady Panther Natasha Mack — regarded as a top 100 recruit in high school — joined the Angelina College Lady Roadrunners after previously signing with the University of Houston.
In her first season with the Lady Roadrunners, she’s already earned a National Player of the Week honor.
Angelina’s Kaylee Parker, Miranda Wiggins earn All-American honors
Parker, a former Hudson Lady Hornet, was chosen for the National Fastpitch Coaches Association’s NJCAA Division I All-American team this past season for Angelina College.
Parker signed with Bowling Green University.
Teammate Wiggins earned second-team All-American honors.