A month ago Whitehouse was happy to sneak into the playoffs as the fourth seed from its district.
Now the Wildcats are in the final four.
Ryan Walls threw a complete-game shutout in Game 2 and recorded the final three outs in Game 3 to send Whitehouse to the state tournament with a 5-4 victory over District 16-5A rival Lufkin in their Class 5A Region II championship series on Friday afternoon at Mike Carter Field.
The Wildcats won 1-0 in Game 2 to even the best-of-three series after the Panthers won 5-3 on Thursday night.
Whitehouse (25-11) will head to state next week for the first time since a Patrick Mahomes-led squad made the 4A semifinals in 2013. The 5A semifinal is slated for Thursday at either 4 p.m. or 7 p.m. against an opponent to be determined later.
"It's absolutely crazy," Walls said. "Especially thinking we might not even make the playoffs and now we're going to state."
The Wildcats were winless in three tries against Lufkin heading into Friday and trailed 2-0 after four innings in Game 3 before scoring two in the fifth and three in the seventh.
Walls induced a sharp liner straight to Tanner Roach at shortstop with the bases loaded to end Game 3 and the Wildcats formed a dog pile in front of the mound.
"They just don't quit," Whitehouse coach Derrick Jenkins said.
Lufkin played one regular-season and 12 postseason games at Mike Carter Field, equaling the number of games Robert E. Lee played there. But the magic ran out for the Panthers on Friday as an eight-game winning streak came to an end.
The boisterous crowds Thursday and Friday set the tone for a tense series where neither team established any sort of dominance.
On Friday, a maroon-haired Whitehouse fan banged incessantly on a trash can lid while a guy a few seats down from her rattled a stick against an empty plastic bucket, leading the Wildcats student section with a cacophony of sound.
Lufkin fans decked out in purple chanted all 21 innings of the series, and on Friday created a sequence of signs on a white board to rile up the Whitehouse student section.
"It's what you do this for," Jenkins said. "This ride right here and to get a chance to play in front of a lot of people that are cheering you on and watching you is why you do this."
In the decisive Game 3, the Wildcats rallied with two runs on a triple from Clayton Pruitt to tie it in the fifth before taking the lead in their final at bat.
Connor Clark, Mason House and Brandon Rossiter had RBIs as Whitehouse came through with a big inning after losing three base runners on the paths earlier in the game.
After Walls scattered four hits and a walk in seven shutout innings in Game 2, he came on in relief of Patty Miner with the tying run at the plate in the bottom of the seventh in Game 3.
Walls allowed a two-run single before closing out the game to propel Whitehouse to state.
All this from a team that barely made the playoffs and was nearly eliminated in bi-district, trailing by six going into its final at bat back on May 7.
"To look back at Texas High and being down 8-2, it's kind of funny," Jenkins said. "We were sitting there talking in the dugout at that ballgame just talking to the kids about life and how there's a lot of things in life going on and this right here won't define who you are.
"Then a lot of things kind of happened. To look at where we're at now, it just shows you right there when people put their mind to it, they've got a chance to do whatever they want to do."
After combining for four runs in the first two games of the series, the Whitehouse bats got hot in Game 3, pounding out 10 hits for five runs in support of Miner on the mound.
Clayton Pruitt went 2 for 4 with a triple, two RBIs and run scored, Connor Clark had two singles and the go-ahead RBI in the seventh and nine-hole hitter Landry Mayo went 2 for 2 with a sacrifice for the Wildcats.
Seven different players had hits for Whitehouse while all nine batters reached base at least once.
Trailing 2-0 in the rubber match, Whitehouse designated hitter Zach Taylor took a ball to the foot to lead off the fifth and took second on a single from Landry Mayo. The pair came home when Pruitt sent a 2-2 pitch to the left-center wall for a two-run triple.
Lufkin coach John Cobb then replaced starting pitcher Manuel Garcia with Kolten Eberlan, who had recorded the final four outs of Game 1 on Thursday.
Eberlan escaped the inning with three outs on four pitches to end the Whitehouse threat. Clark bunted and was thrown out at first before the throw home beat Pruitt at the plate for a 1-3-2 double play. Tanner Roach then flew out to center for the final out.
The score remained 2-2 until the seventh when Taylor, batting eighth, again got things going with a lead-off walk.
After taking second on a sacrifice bunt by Mayo, Taylor reached third on a bunt single from Pruitt. Clark, the catcher, then brought in Taylor for the go-ahead run with a single slapped to right field.
"For what he's done for us behind the plate to get the big hit to get us going, you can't say too much about that," Jenkins said of Clark.
With a 3-2 lead, Whitehouse wasn't done. Tanner Roach singled to load the bases before Mason House dribbled a grounder to the first baseman, who fired home for the lead out. However, the catcher dropped the ball to allow Pruitt to score and keep the bases loaded.
Brandon Rossiter then brought home Clark with a sacrifice fly to right field before pinch hitter Fiver Trimble grounded out to second for the third out with Whitehouse up 5-2.
As it turned out, Whitehouse needed every one of those runs.
In the bottom of the seventh, Miner gave up singles to Tanner Green and Jonathan Dewberry to start the inning.
Walls, who told Jenkins after Whitehouse tied it up in the fifth that he was ready to go on in relief, was then brought in despite throwing 88 pitches in Game 1.
"He's kind of the guy that got us here on the mound and there's no better guy you want on the mound than him," Jenkins said of the decision.
The lanky junior got a fly out to center but Blake Lazarine singled just in front of left fielder Mayo to load the bases. TCU signee Haylen Green then came through with a two-run single and the bases were loaded again when Walls walked Dylan Murphy.
However Walls forced Ben Osgood to line out to short with the winning run on second, sending the large Wildcats contingent into a celebratory frenzy.
"I was hoping please hit it right to him because I knew he definitely hit it pretty hard," Walls said of the final out. "I was just hoping it went to somebody. That feeling at the end, it was great."
Walls earned the save while Miner earned the win after allowing four runs on eight hits and one walk.
"I came in with a game plan: win - that' all there was to it," Miner said. "I had full confidence in my defense. I throw strikes, I let them hit it right to them and they'll make plays and eventually the bats will come around and they did, thankfully."
Dewberry went 3 for 3 with three runs to lead Lufkin in Game 3. Haylen Green had two hits and three RBIs while left fielder Luke Rowley added a single, an RBI double and an outfield assist to go along with two singles in Game 2.
Lufkin took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first but could have had more. The Panthers loaded the bases with no outs via two hits and an error before Haylen Green knocked a single to center field to score Dewberry.
Miner got Max Quick to pop out and then Murphy lined out to Roach, who flipped to Jonathan Reyes at second base for a double play to limit the damage for the Wildcats.
Lufkin made it 2-0 with back-to-back hits to start the third. Dewberry led the inning off with a single just over the head of second baseman Reyes. Rowley then hit the first extra base hit of the series, a double into left-center field to score Dewberry from first.
The Wildcats threatened in the fourth when they had three singles and a walk but couldn't find a way to score. House started with a one-out walk but was caught out too far from second after a single by Rossiter.
Miner then singled to left to put two on for Walls, who hit a bloop single to left. Rossiter was sent home but Rowley gunned him down at the plate to end the inning.
"We feel like a lot of situations got away from us," Jenkins said. "We'll be aggressive all day right there."
Nonetheless, the Whitehouse bats eventually came around to send the Wildcats to state.
"It's crazy," Miner said. "I mean, no one thought we could do it. We came in preseason unranked, unranked all season, now we're taking down teams ranked in the state left and right."
The first game Friday featured an epic pitcher's duel between Walls and Lufkin's Logan Lair.
Early on Walls, despite facing elimination, was feeling good. In the second inning he looked over to Miner at first base and said: "You're going to throw Game 3 today, so be ready to go."
Walls scattered four hits and a walk while striking out two for the complete-game shutout. He threw 58 of his 88 pitches for strikes.
Walls never faced more than four batters in any inning.
"I felt good," Walls said. "I felt like I had to come out here and perform for my team like I've done all season. I knew they'd have my back."
Lair was nearly as impressive, allowing the one run on four hits and two walks. He struck out four in six innings and threw 54 of his 81 pitches for strikes.
The lone run came in the second inning when House, Whitehouse's top hitter who was relatively quiet all series, led off with a single.
House stole second, which prevented a double play ball on the next at bat. After a walk to Walls put two aboard, Taylor slotted a ball past third baseman Max Quick, allowing House to score on a hit-and-run from second.
The one run was enough for Walls as the Wildcats went on to win it in Game 3.
"They just found a way to do some things," Jenkins said. "It's just crazy to be here right now."
Class 5A Region II Final
Whitehouse 5, Lufkin 4
(Whitehouse wins series 2-1)
Whitehouse 000 020 3 - 5 10 1
Lufkin 101 000 2 - 4 10 1
Patty Miner, Ryan Walls (7) and Connor Clark. Manuel Garcia, Kolten Eberlan (5) and Ben Osgood. W – Miner. L – Eberlan. S – Walls. 2B – L: Luke Rowley, Dylan Murphy. 3B – WH: Clayton Pruitt. SB – WH: Brandon Quarles. L: Rowley.
RECORDS - Whitehouse 25-11; Lufkin 28-10.
NEXT UP - Whitehouse vs. TBD, 4 p.m. or 7 p.m. Thursday, Dell Diamond, Round Rock, Class 5A state semifinal.
Whitehouse 1, Lufkin 0
Lufkin 000 000 0 - 0 4 0
Whitehouse 010 000 x - 1 4 0
Logan Lair and Connor Hanks. Ryan Walls and Connor Clark. W – Walls. L – Lair. SB – WH: Mason House.