Editor's note: This article has been updated throughout.
AUSTIN — The defending state champions aren’t ready to be dethroned just yet and are now just one more victory away from another title.
A dominant performance at the plate — paced by home runs from senior Ashley Sloan and sophomore Bella Smith — and crooked numbers in all but one inning led the Bells Lady Panthers to a 13-0 victory in five innings over the Albany Lady Lions in a Class 2A state semifinal at Red and Charline McCombs Field on Wednesday afternoon.
“The bats were hot and the girls came out here with confidence,” Bells head coach Kristina Stephens said. “It makes us hungry for more.”
Cheyenne Floyd worked around two bases-loaded situations to post the shutout and Bells (27-8) will face Normangee (31-4), which beat Woden, 8-7 with a four-run bottom of the seventh, in the other semifinal, for the state championship at 3 p.m. Thursday.
“We’re definitely going to have to come out and play our hearts out,” Sloan said. “It’s unbelievable.”
Smith was 4-for-4 with a double and a home run, five RBI and scored three times while Sloan was 2-for-4 with a double, homer and three RBI and scored and Mia Moore was 2-for-4 with a double, drove in a run and scored three times for the Lady Panthers.
“I hope they come out and keep swinging tomorrow. We have to keep playing like we know how to play,” Stephens said. “All year they’ve been compared to the team last year and they keep meeting expectations. I couldn’t be more proud of what they’re doing.”
Smith became the first player to homer in three straight state tournament games across two appearances and tied the Class 2A state tournament records for hits and RBI in a game. The home runs by Smith and Sloan were the first time a 2A team hit multiple homers at the state tournament and just the third time by any team, regardless of classification.
A five-run fourth inning doubled Bells’ lead and put the Lady Panthers on the verge of the run-rule win. Jalen Hartline opened with a walk and scored on Floyd’s RBI double. An error on Moore’s grounder to third made it 7-0 and then Smith and Sloan had back-to-back RBI doubles.
Hali Williams closed out the frame by driving in a run with a double the other way to left field and Bells was up 10-0.
Smith put the exclamation point on the victory with a two-run homer to left after Moore had a one-out RBI double.
Albany (26-6), the Region I champion, had a pair of chances to get back into the game, none bigger than when the Lady Lions loaded the bases with no outs in the bottom of the third. Reyna Garcia led off with a single to center and Caitlyn Holson doubled to left. Elia Hebel, the cleanup hitter, was intentionally walked.
Floyd buckled down with back-to-back strikeouts and then induced a groundout to third by Bailey Green to end the threat and keep it a five-run advantage.
That came an inning after Albany loaded the bases with two outs. Kaley Smith had a one-out single and Krysten Morris singled with two down before Floyd walked the No. 9 hitter, Tori Fuentes. But she was able to get Aubrey Moon, who came into the tournament hitting a team-best .625, to fly out to Victoria Azevedo in right. Moon went 0-for-3 out of the leadoff spot.
“That’s a huge credit to Cheyenne. She’s good about her composure in situations like that,” Stephens said. “Our defense and hitters are going to back her up.”
Floyd scattered six hits and two walks and Bells did not make an error behind her.
Albany left eight runners on base — six in scoring position — before Floyd, who struck out three, retired the final six she faced and nine of the final 10. Morris and Garcia, who gave up 12 hits and five walks in the circle for the Lady Lions, each had a pair of hits.
Sloan yanked a two-run homer over the left-field wall after Smith singled with one out in the third inning for a 5-0 margin.
“I didn’t realize it was gone. It was still going when I was at first,” Sloan said. “I could not stop sprinting and then Bella was trotting in front of me; I almost caught her.”
The only inning the Lady Panthers didn’t score was the second when Gabby Smith, who walked three times and scored twice, had a two-out walk and was stranded at first.
Bells had a 3-0 lead four batters into the game against an opponent in the state tournament for the first time since 2013. Gabby Smith walked, stole second and went to third when the throw ended up in center field. Floyd dunked a single into right to get the Lady Panthers on the board, Mia Moore followed with a single and Bella Smith drove in both runners with a hit up the middle.
“We jumped on them early and we knew that if they started getting going, we couldn’t let them keep it going and score,” Sloan said.