BULLARD -- The Van Lady Vandals finished last season just two wins shy of the state tournament, and began their quest to reach Austin at the end of next month with a hard-fought, playoff-opening win.

Nicole Gandy struck out 11 in seven innings and collected the go-ahead RBI single in the fifth inning of Van's 3-2 win over Gilmer on Thursday night in Game 1 of their Class 3A bi-district playoff series at Brook Hill's Schwab Field.

The series resumes with Game 2 at 3 p.m. Saturday back at Brook Hill with a third game to follow if needed.

Van's Jordain Castillo lays down a bunt during the Lady Vandals' 3-2 win over Gilmer in Game 1 of their Class 3A bi-district playoff series Thursday night in Bullard. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Van (21-4-1), which outfought defending state finalist Mineola for the District 15-3A title during the regular season after falling to its arch-rival in the regional finals a year ago, outhit Gilmer (21-13) by the count of 8-4. But Van stranded seven baserunners on the night to make its playoff opener interesting.

"You never know about that first game," said Van coach Craig Ham. "Everybody's got those playoff jitters, so you take a win any way you can get it. I'm just glad that we came out on top."

Gandy allowed just two runs -- both coming with two outs -- and walked just two batters. She retired the final seven hitters she faced.

"After she settled down she did a great job and was able to hit her spots," Ham said of Gandy.

Shaylee Fennell's RBI double off the wall in left-center tied the game at 2-2 in the top of the fifth, but Van was able to respond quickly. With one out, Kylie Moore advanced to second on a two-base fielding error by the Gilmer first baseman. And down in the count 1-2, Gandy slapped a single up the middle for the go-ahead run.

"That was a sweet hit; she belted that," Ham said. "It was key for her to pick up the RBI for the win."

Gilmer did not threaten the rest of the way as Gandy struck out the side in the top of seventh to put the finishing touches on the Game 1 victory.

"I knew there would be a few jitters," said Gilmer coach Keely Peterson. "I feel like we played well, considering that we've got some young kids in some big positions out here. They made a couple mistakes just due to a lack of experience, but I feel like that's out now and we're good to go. They definitely left wanting more."

Gilmer's Makayla Sikes winds up for a pitch against Van in Game 1 of their Class 3A bi-district playoff series Thursday night in Bullard. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Gilmer, which qualified for the playoffs as the fourth-place team from 16-3A, wasted little time in grabbing the game's first lead. Tanah Seely drew a walk to lead off the game and eventually came around to score on Makayla Sikes' two-out RBI single up the middle.

Van evened the game in the bottom half of the first with a clutch two-out hit of its own. Kylie Moore walked, moved to second when Gandy was hit by a pitch and scored on a single to left field by Haleigh Moore.

Haleigh Moore and the Lady Vandals took their first lead, 2-1, in the bottom of the third on her RBI double that scored Kylie Moore once again. Haleigh Moore finished 2-for-3 with two RBIs, while Kylie Moore scored all three runs for Van.

"She just gets up there and battles and finds a way to put the ball in play," Ham said of Haleigh Moore. "She's right there in the middle of the lineup and she does a great job."

Sikes took the loss for Gilmer, allowing three runs (two earned) on eight hits with two strikeouts and one walk in six innings.

"I think that they showed maturity in that they didn't really die down and fought throughout the entire game," Peterson said of her team. "We feel good about coming in on Saturday."

Van's Sierra Nichols tags out Gilmer's Mallery Stanley at first base during Game 1 of their Class 3A bi-district playoff series Thursday night in Bullard. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Van 3, Gilmer 2

Class 3A Region II Bi-District Playoff Series -- Game 1

At Schwab Field, Bullard

Gilmer              100    010    0    --    2    4    1
Van                  101    010    x    --    3    8    1

Pitchers and catchers
  • Gilmer: Makayla Sikes and Sassy Meadows.
  • Van: Nicole Gandy and Haleigh Moore


WP -- Gandy.
LP -- Sikes.


  • Gilmer: Shaylee Fennell.
  • Van: Hallee Carter, Kylee Moore, Haleigh Moore.