SUNNYVALE — This was not the way the Sanger softball team wanted to open its best-of-three Class 3A Region II semifinal playoff series against Van on Friday night.
The Lady Indians scored one run in the first inning, then were shut out the rest of the way, stranding six batters through four innings in a 5-1 loss to the Lady Vandals in Game 1 of the series at Sunnyvale High School.
Sanger, ranked No. 4 in the Texas Girls Coaches Association state poll, was limited to five hits, all in the first three innings, and managed just two baserunners over the final five innings.
“We were outplayed, we were outpitched, we were outhit, and that’s all I've got to say,” Sanger coach Jae McMinn said. “We didn’t play well. They did and I've got a long ride home.”
The Lady Indians (30-5) will have to regroup quickly with Game 2 of the series at 3 p.m. today back in Sunnyvale, with Game 3, if needed, to follow. The winner will face either No. 8 Mineola or Frisco Lone Star in the regional finals. Mineola and Van are both from District 15-3A.
The Lady Indians, winners of District 9-3A, did not execute like they did in defeating Nevada Community in two games in the area round, and then Aubrey in a single-game quarterfinal playoff.
They had opportunities in the first two innings to take control, but managed just one run on four hits while leaving four runners on base. While no Lady Indians struck out, they simply could not mount any rally against Van pitcher Sierra Nichols, either from her position in the circle or in the batter’s box.
Nichols gave up five hits, allowed no walks, and retired the final 11 batters of the game. Offensively, her two-run homer over the center-field fence in the third put Van ahead, and she finished the game 3-for-4 with three RBIs.
“She’s a competitor whether she’s pitching or hitting,” Van coach Craig Ham said of his sophomore. “She loves to win. She made all the right pitches when she had to. Then she served up that shot to center. She came up big for us.”
The Lady Vandals (28-5-1) also had three doubles off Sanger starter Kelly Mardones, who was the winning pitcher in all three of Sanger’s earlier playoff victories. She threw 72 pitches in four innings, allowing eight hits with three walks and no strikeouts. Nichole Nordie pitched the final three innings and allowed three hits, walked one and struck out three.
Sanger struck quickly in the bottom of the first inning. Morgan Turkoly led off with a double down the third-base line, moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Mikayla Stogsdill, then scored when she beat out a throw to home by Nichols, who had fielded Nordie’s grounder in front of the circle.
The Lady Indians had a chance to get more runs that inning after Victoria Eakman reached on an error and Erica Bjorndal hit an infield single to load the bases. But what turned out to be a key play, Van turned a double play when Nichols fielded a grounder by Harlee Sliger, threw home for one out, and catcher Jasmin Gipson relayed to first to get Sliger.
“That was a huge double play,” Ham said. “We keep them to 1-0 and that was big for us. That really kept us in the game.”
The Lady Indians had another opportunity to score in the second after Bailey Ferguson and Savannah Matheus led off with back-to-back singles. Natalie Castillo advanced the runners with a sacrifice, but Turkoly and Stogsdill each grounded out to leave the runners stranded.
Sanger would only get two more baserunners the rest of the way. Eakman hit a one-out single in the third and didn’t advance, while Matheus drew a one-out walk in the fourth — the only walk Nichols allowed — and moved to second on a ground out before the inning ended on a fly ball.
After Matheus’ walk, Nichols and the Lady Vandals retired the final 11 batters of the game.
Meanwhile, Van took control in the top half of third. Autumn McKinney hit a two-out double to left, and Nichols lifted her second pitch from Mardones over the center-field fence to give Van a 2-1 lead. Gipson followed with a double to left, advanced on a passed ball and scored on Ashlin Lovett’s infield single.
Hallee Carter hit a one-out double to center in the fourth and with two outs scored on Nichols’ RBI single up the middle, Nichols’ third RBI of the game. That gave Van a 4-1 lead.
The Lady Vandals added a run in the sixth off reliever Nordie. Caitlann Peden drew a leadoff walk, Carter and Chelsey Trejo singled to load the bases, and Peden scored on McKinney’s fielder's choice.
Van 5, Sanger 1
Van 003 101 0 — 5 11 1
Sanger 100 000 0 — 1 5 0
WP — Sierra Nichols. LP — Kelly Mardones. 2B — Van: Autumn McKinney, Jasmin Gipson, Hallee Carter; Sanger: Morgan Turkoly. HR — Van: Sierra Nichols. Records — Sanger (30-5), Van (28-5-1).