TYLER -- The Mineola Lady Jackets are going back to Austin.

Mineola (30-8) took care of business with a 14-6 series-clinching win over District 15-3A rival Van on Saturday in Game 2 of their the Class 3A Regional II final series at UT Tyler Ballpark.

It will be a return trip to the UIL state softball tournament in Austin next week, but this time, it will be in a higher classification.

"We knew going from 2A to 3A would be a lot of competition, but with these girls, it just gives them more drive," said Mineola coach Jana Nance."We don't care what classification we play in, we'll play the same in all."

For a team loaded with hitters, it was Mineola senior and Texas Woman's University signee Ali Galaz who shined brightest. Galaz continued her torrid playoff streak, going 4-for-4 with two home runs, a triple and a game-high seven RBIs.

"Ali's been out since almost the whole season, until our last district game, so she's just barely getting started," said Nance. "She completes our team. Van hadn't really seen our team, because we added Ali and changed some positions. She's a big asset to us. She's got a stick, she has defense and has speed. You name it, she has it."

Mineola's Brittney Johnson runs the bases against Van during Game 2 of their Class 3A Region II final series Saturday at UT Tyler Ballpark. (© Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Mineola's Marisa Ledkins, Rikkilyn Hass and Jade Green all had three-hit games, while Brittney Johnson and Manda Wilmoth added two hits apiece. Morgan Catron was walked four times and scored three runs.

"You have to respect Van, they are the district champions," said Nance. "They had three great pitchers, a great defense and their offense came to life. We knew we had to just play our game, and that just gave us more drive. We felt (Van) took something away from us, so we were going to take something back from them."

Mineola started with four runs in the top of the first. A Green RBI single, followed by a bases-clearing triple from Galaz got the Lady Jackets off to a good start.

Mineola scored three more runs before Van could blink when Ledkins and Wilmoth had RBI base-hits in the third for a 7-0 advantage.

Playing Van for a spot at the state tournament added extra motivation.

"That's the fuel for the fire," said Galaz. "We knew that (Van) took that district title from us when we were in conditions that weren't perfect for us to compete. We needed to prove that. As soon as we stepped on the field, that was our motivation. It was ours."

Van didn't go away, though.

Van's Hallee Carter swings the bat against Mineola during Game 2 of their Class 3A Region II final series Saturday at UT Tyler Ballpark. (© Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

The Lady Vandals scored three runs in the third and fourth innings. Chelsey Trejo started with an RBI on a fielder's choice and Ashlin Lovett roped a two-run single to left in the third. After Sierra Nichols collected an RBI single and Ashlin Lovett reaching on an error, three more runs came across for Can in the fourth and it was a one-run game after four, 7-6.

"When (Van) got within one run, 7-6, our girls started going crazy," said Nance. "Last night (Game 1) when it was tied at 6-6, we started going crazy. We're not going to let a team take from us what we want."

It also signaled a turning point in the game for Mineola's Hass in the circle.

"There always comes a time, from the deepest part of the game, someone has to put more out there," said Hass. "You have to have more heart, take over the game and finish it. We've played (Van) for most of our lives, and of course, we have to win. We are rivals, but we had to go back to Austin. We have to finish what we started."

Nance offered her praise of Hass.

"I would have to give her credit for a lot of stuff," said Nance, about Hass, the only pitcher the Lady Jackets have used throughout the playoffs. "She has a lot of heart, a lot of guts and a lot of pain to do what she does. We all know exactly what she takes on for this team. She's a great pitcher and I'm just so glad she's able to overcome so much."

Van's Hallee Carter reaches for Mineola's Ali Galaz's home run during Game 2 of their Class 3A Region II final series Saturday at UT Tyler Ballpark. (© Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

But as soon as the Lady Vandals gathered a little momentum, Galaz quickly erased it.

Galaz led of the following inning with a solo home run that seemed to jump start the Mineola faithful.

"When Morgan (Catron) and I were out during district, the other girls backed us up," said Galaz. "They took charge and held down our spots. Morgan and I worked really hard in the batting cages so that we could come back full speed. It's awesome having such a great team 1-9. All great players backing each other up."

Johnson added a sac-fly RBI and Hass drove in another run, giving Mineola some cushion, 10-6. And if that weren't enough, the Lady Jackets wanted a little more insurance in the seventh.

Green started with a run-scoring single and Galaz delivered the final blow. A three-run bomb over the left-field fence sent the Mineola crowd into a frenzy and a return trip to Austin was only three outs away.

Johnson described the feeling in one word.

"It's surreal," she said. "(Van) stole the district championship from us. The added motivation wasn't just beating Van, but going back to Austin. Van is our rival, but also our friends. We know every one of them, and they know us. It's a great feeling getting past (Van)."

Mineola lost to Alpine in the 2A state semifinals last season. Now, they want more than one game.

"We are looking forward to not only playing one game, but winning both this time," said senior second baseman Marisa Ledkins.

Van's season ended at 29-7-1.

"We've had a great season," said Van coach Craig Ham. "We hadn't lost a game until last night, since we lost that opening district game to Mineola early in the year. These girls did a great job, and we've had an outstanding run. Sixteen or 17 wins in a row for us was great, but it hurts to end it today. I'm proud of these girls, and I'm proud of my team. They've been through a lot this year. They've overcome and preservered. This season, they pretty much carried me. These girls mean everything to me. Everything."

For one of the Lady Jackets, it was more than just beating their rival.

"In the end, we were just playing for ourselves, our team, our seniors and for our community," said Green.


Mineola 14, Van 6

Class 3A Region II Final
Game 2

UT Tyler Ballpark

Mineola         403    030    4    --   14   17    3
Van               003    300    0    --    6     8    2

Mineola: Rikkilyn Hass and Morgan Catron. Van: Autumn McKinney and Jasmin Gipson.

WP -- Hass.
LP -- McKinney.

2B -- Mineola: Hass, Manda Wilmoth. Van: Ashlin Lovett.
3B -- Mineola: Ali Galaz, Marisa Ledkins. Van: Hallee Carter.
HR -- Mineola: Galaz (2) (fifth inning, solo), (seventh, two on).

Records -- Mineola: 30-8. Van: 29-7-1.

Mineola's Raven Johnson (13) slides into home plate ahead of the tag of Van catcher Jasmin Gipson during Game 2 of their Class 3A Region II final series on Saturday at UT Tyler Ballpark. (© Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)