FORNEY — Against a normal team in Game 3 of a best-of-three playoff series, a two-run homer for the opposition in the top of the first inning is usually a bad sign of things to come.
On Saturday afternoon at Jackrabbit Field, the Van Lady Vandals never doubted themselves, or the outcome.
The Lady Vandals (27-5-1) answered back immediately and never stopped. Trailing 2-0 to Celina, Van reeled off 12 unanswered runs and 15 hits to end the game in the bottom of the fifth with a 12-2 victory to advance in the Class 3A Region II softball playoffs.
Celina (26-17) took the quick lead when Lady Bobcat catcher Alexis Elizondo cleared the right-field fence after a Courtney Todd single and a fast 2-0 lead.
Van made a statement in the bottom of the inning, coming back to take the lead for good with four runs. The Lady Vandals broke out with four more runs in the second inning on four hits and two sacrifices to settle in to an 8-2 advantage.
“That girl (Elizondo) is a great hitter, and to keep her to one homerun in the series, our pitchers just did an awesome job,” said Van head coach Craig Ham. “But after the homerun, our girl’s stuck with it. We had a plan and that wasn’t going to change it.
“They were playing the shift on us like they did last night (game two). We worked on it and we had a plan to go against it and we executed it perfectly. We forced them to change pitchers and our girls made them do that.”
Six hits and four runs in the fifth inning put an ending to the finale of the three-game set.
Winning pitcher Nicole Gandy aided her mound efforts with her bat, going a solid 3-for-3, with a two-run double and another RBI single in her final at-bat in the fifth stanza.
Fittingly, Gandy singled in the final run of the game to take for the 10-run rule.
“We have to have the mindset that we are going to make contact with the ball every single time we step up to the plate,” Gandy said.
She improved to 14-2-1 on the mound, striking out two, walking one, and scattering out six Lady Bobcat hits. The first inning was the only multi-hit inning for Celina as Gandy continuously hit her spots.
“Some of my pitches were working today and some of them weren’t,” Gandy said “Haleigh (Moore) always does a great job setting up the pitches for me (behind the plate) and she played great today, and it was all good enough to get the win.”
Van center fielder Hallee Carter did more than her part in the lead-off spot, going 3 for 4 and scoring three runs while knocking in another. Ashlin Lovett was just as lethal in the two-hole of the Lady Vandal order with a big sacrifice bunt in the first inning, and scoring the final run of the game.
Batting in the nine-spot, Jordain Castillo blasted two doubles, scored two times, and knocked in one of the four fifth inning final touches.
Designated player Sierra Nichols (2-for-3, run scored, two RBIs) got her second hit of the game to start a one-out rally in the final at-bat. Devri Cotton sacrificed Nichols over before Castillo’s second double made it a 9-2 contest.
Then with two outs, Castillo’s double was followed by consecutive hits in order from Carter, Lovett, Kylee Moore (1 for 2, two runs, RBI), and Gandy to put an end to the Celina season.
Castillo’s first double was huge as it plated Gandy and battery-mate Moore for the 4-2 turnaround in the opening inning to settle the Lady Vandals fans in the capacity crowd.
Van will next play Atlanta in a Class 3A Region II Final, at a time and place to be determined.
Class 3A Region II Semifinal
Van wins series, 2-1
At Jackrabbit Field, Forney
Van 12, Celina 2
Celina 200 00 — 2 6 1
Van 440 04 — 12 15 0
Hallie Knowles, Lauren Schultz (3), and Alexis Elizondo. Nicole Gandy and Haleigh Moore. WP – Gandy (14-2-1). LP – Knowles. 2B – C: Courtney Todd. V: Nicole Gandy, Jordain Castillo (2). HR – C: Alexis Elizondro (one on, first inning).
RECORDS – Celina 26-17; Van 27-5-1.
NEXT UP – Celina season over; Van vs. Atlanta in Class 3A regional final, site and time TBD.