Van baseball is a regular in the postseason with the Vandals reaching the playoffs 11 of the past 13 years and four years in a row.

Success after they arrive?

Well, that's been another story.

Van began the Class 4A playoffs looking to snap a seven-year drought of being knocked out in the bi-district round. The Vandals made quick work of that hurdle by sweeping Mabank.

Then last week, the Vandals emerged with a 2-1 series win over North Lamar in their Region II area-round matchup.

It was Van's first area playoff win since 1991 — 24 years.

Van (20-7-1) now faces off with Bullard (19-6) in the regional quarterfinals.

The first pitch of Game 1 in their best-of-three series is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday at Mike Carter Field. Game 2 is scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday with Game 3, if needed, scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday.

The Vandals are in unchartered waters, and no one understands that better than head coach Jerami Hawkins.

"I was a freshman on that 1991 team," said Hawkins, now 39 and enjoying his 10th year as Van baseball coach. "I didn't play. They'd brought some of us up to be on the roster for the playoffs, but it was a (neat deal)."

Van was able to reach the regional quarterfinals in '91, but the road ended there.

So a series win over Bullard would give Van its best baseball season in recorded school history.

All of this playoff success is helping the city of Van heal from another historical event.

Late in the evening on May 10, an EF-3 tornado ripped through Van Zandt County with the city of Van taking the hardest hit. More than 500 structures suffered damage, nearly half of those being people's homes. Officials said later that close to 90 homes were destroyed.

School was canceled last week, but the Vandals tried to keep some semblance of a normal practice routine.

"We'd have practice and then they would go meet up with their friends and family and help in the cleanup efforts," Hawkins said. "This week is a little more normal because they are back in school. With the tornado and all, this (playoff run) has given our community a diversion for a while form the things they've had to witness."

Van won the opener of its series with North Lamar 8-7 before being pegged back in a 3-2 loss in Game 2. In the deciding third game, Van won 5-3.

While the Vandals were overcoming their playoff demons, Bullard was taking care of Canton in two games (2-0, 7-5). The Panthers swept through a doubleheader, thanks to a complete game shutout by Zach Eschberger in Game 1 and holding off the Eagles to win 7-5 in Game 2.

"We faced the Eschberger kid two years ago (in the playoffs) and he beat us in a one gamer," Hawkins said. "He's a really good pitcher and probably will be if not the best, then one of the best we've faced this season. Their No. 2 pitcher, (Ty Miller), I've seen some of his stats and they are right (in line) with Eschberger."

The Vandals counter with a veteran team led on the mound by senior pitcher Garin Shelton (9-0) and at the plate by seniors Christian Cole, Cole Newsom and Jacob Tobias.

For years Van baseball players have been a fixture at Lady Vandals' softball games cheering them on as Van reached the state final in 2014 and were regional finalists in 2013 and 2014 and quarterfinalist six of the past seven seasons.

This year after Van softball was upset in the regional quarterfinals; many of the players paid it forward and were cheering on the baseball team.

"Our girls program has been so dominant that we kind of have played second fiddle to them," Hawkins said. "But (against North Lamar) it was good for our boys to see those girls up there supporting them."

The winner of Van-Bullard series advances to the regional semifinals against the Sanger-Argyle winner.

Notes: In 1991 the Vandals defeated Wylie 4-2 in the Class 3A area round before falling to Queen City 7-0 in the regional quarterfinals. Queen City eventually went on to finish as state runner-up.

 

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