PROSPER — In trying to take down the defending state champions, the Bells Panthers were going to need a lot of things go their way.
The first step came when they won a coin flip for a single game against the Muenster Hornets instead of a series. But in the seven innings that followed it proved as tough as they figured.
Bells trailed by only a pair of runs after three innings when Muenster started capitalizing on several mistakes and went on to eliminate the Panthers, 12-2, in six innings in the Class 2A Region II final on Friday night.
“We knew we couldn’t give them anything and we did. We gave them too much,” Bells head coach Josh Weger said. “You just want to keep it close and find a way at the end. Everybody in our region knew they had to go through Muenster.”
Muenster (34-4), which has won 16 straight postseason games, advances to the state tournament and will play in a semifinal at either 4 p.m. or 7 p.m. on Wednesday at Dell Diamond in Round Rock as it chases a second straight title. The other qualifying teams are New Deal, Woden and Thorndale-Big Sandy.
Bells (28-7) had the best season in program history end one win short of the final four. The Panthers set the school mark for victories and advanced past the region quarterfinals for the first time behind a quartet of starting seniors — Hunter Hawthorne, Stephen Hinds, Chance Morse and Eli Strickland.
“I think two years ago we didn’t make the playoffs. To see where this team got is a great accomplishment,” Weger said. “They have raised the bar for the next ones to come and to strive for.”
The Panthers gave up nine hits but were mostly hurt by six walks, five errors and four hit batters. On offense, they had runners on base in every inning and left four of the eight in scoring position.
Things unraveled in the bottom of the fourth as Muenster scored four runs thanks in part to four errors. Morse had one at first base and then Strickland dropped a fly ball in left that ended Hawthorne’s night at 95 pitches.
Matthew Conner came on and struck out clean-up hitter Parker McGrew for the first out. With both runners in scoring position and the infield in, he got a ground ball right to second baseman Hinds, who hesitated and then airmailed the throw to the plate as both Hornets scored.
Following a hit by pitch and a flyout, Danny Luttner bounced an infield single to short to drive in a run and an error on the play allowed Carson Trubenbach to score for an 8-2 lead.
Clay Stevens followed with an RBI single to widen the gap as Muenster batted around in the inning and ultimately left the bases loaded.
“We had a chance to get out of that inning when he came in,” Weger said. “That’s when it kinda got out of hand.”
The Panthers had a chance to score in the top of the fifth when they put runners on the corners with two outs thanks to an error and single by Conner, who was 2-for-2 with a walk. But Jacob Taylor took off to steal home on a 3-1 pitch which was ruled a walk by Strickland and he was tagged out to end the inning instead of Bells loading the bases.
Muenster tacked on a run in the fifth via a groundout to second by Trubenbach after a Stetson McGrew triple for a 10-2 advantage.
The Hornets ended the game in the sixth on Carson Cheaney’s two-run double to center.
Bells made it 4-2 in the top of the third on Morse’s sacrifice fly to right. Hinds was hit by a pitch to open the inning and Hawthorne hit a one-out double near the base of the wall in left-center. Morse drove in Hinds to pull the Panthers within two runs.
Cheaney’s RBI single with one out in the bottom of the second gave the Hornets a 4-1 advantage.
Bells cut into its early deficit with a two-out RBI double by Trystan Mallory in the top of the second. Conner led off the inning with a single up the middle and made it to third on a pair of groundouts. Mallory then sent a double down the right-field line just inside the first base bag to put the Panthers on the board.
The Hornets took a 3-0 lead four batters into the game. After an out, Kagen Dangelmayr singled and was at second after a pickoff throw into foul territory. A wild pitch on a walk to Cheaney put runners at the corners and then Parker McGrew launched a three-run homer over the high wall in left center.
Muenster put the next two batters on but Hawthorne escape further damage, despite needing 39 pitches to get out of the inning.
Parker McGrew worked around a two-out error in the first with a strikeout and a couple of flyouts.