WEATHERFORD— It took nearly six hours but the wait proved to be well worth it. The Bells Lady Panthers are heading back to Austin.
After withstanding game-tying rallies in the sixth and seventh inning from Crawford, Bells broke through for four runs in the 11th inning — capped off with a mammoth three-run home run from Gabby Smith for an 11-7 in Game 3 of the Class 2A regional final at Weatherford College on Saturday night.
The Lady Panthers (26-8) are now 12-0 in elimination games since the start of the 2017 postseason and will continue their efforts to repeat. Bells will play in a state semifinal at 9 a.m. or noon on Wednesday at Red and Charline McCombs Field in Austin. Albany, Woden and Normangee are potential opponents when the bracket is released on Sunday
“I’ve said it from Day 1 that these girls fight,” Bells head coach Krisitna Stephens. “They fought tonight; they have a lot of heart and they don’t know how to give up.”
After winning Game 2 to stay alive, the Lady Panthers looked to be well in control with a 6-0 lead and were six outs away from the win.
Then, Crawford (28-5) came in and crashed the party. After RBI doubles from Cambree Aguirre and Avery Ward, Kyla Mach lined a two-run triple into the corner of right field to tie it up.
“After that inning, I just told them to keep fighting,” Stephens said. “I told them, ‘This is it.’ If you don’t put it all out there, we’re going home.’ And we were able to do that tonight.”
Each team scored a run in the seventh — Bells on an RBI double from Chesney Blount and Crawford on an RBI double from Kinnidy Markum that turned into a wild rundown at the plate.
Just like in Game 2, it was senior Ashley Sloan who came up with the big hits early. With the bases loaded and one out, she drove a fastball from Aguirre to the wall in left-center field to drive in three runs to get the scoring for the Lady Panthers.
Sloan later scored on an RBI groundout from Cheznie Hale in the same inning.
Bells loaded the bases again in the fourth and took advantage on a defensive mistake from Crawford.
A pop fly from Mia Moore was dropped in the infield — bringing in two runs on the play to extend the lead.
That’s when the LadyPirates made their run before Bells broke through the deadlock in the 11th inning.
“I had been looking for an inside pitch all night,” Smith said of her three-run home run. “I just stepped up and hit it out.”
It may have taken longer than anticipated and will now get a chance to defend their title.
“It’s huge,” Stephens said. “I don’t have any more words to describe it. It’s huge for everyone in the community.”
In Game 2, Cheyenne Floyd gave up one run on 10 hits in as Bells earned the 6-1 victort to even the best-of-three series.
The Lady Panthers scored one run in the second and one in the fourth off of two at bats from Blount. After Crawford scored a run in the fifth off an RBI single from Markum, Bells got the cushion it needed with a bases-clearing double from Sloan in the bottom of the inning.
Bells scored off an error in the bottom of the sixth inning to cap off the scoring.