FORT WORTH — By giving Bells a second chance, Moody sealed its fate. The decision for a series gave the Lady Panthers a much-needed mulligan and they didn’t waste the opportunity to make amends.
The hits kept coming from up and down the Bells lineup and Katie Branam stiffled Moody for all but two innings in a pair of elimination games, culminating with a 15-3 victory in five innings in the deciding game of a Class 2A Region II semifinal series at Fort Worth Brewer on Friday night.
“We came in knowing what was on the line,” Branam said. “I had that backup. I had that defense behind me and it’s great to have an offense like we do.”
Bells (29-3) will face either Tom Bean or Valley View in the region final this week for a berth in the state tournament. It is the first region final appearance in program history for the Lady Panthers.
“We’re one round away from that big game but we’re focused on this next round,” Bells head coach Kristina Stephens said. “We try not to talk about what’s ahead. We focus on what we have to do right now.”
Moody (18-7) had to have been wishing it had flipped for a one-game match-up after it won Game 1, 10-9, in walkoff fashion on Thursday night.
Bells didn’t have much time to regroup but they flushed one of its rare losses with a pair of blowouts.
Ashley Sloan went 6-for-8 with two homers, seven RBI and five runs over the two contests, Branam homered in each game and C.J. Crane added a homer for the Lady Panthers.
“I think it speaks for itself,” Stephens said. “They love to hit. They love the challenge of hitting and they’re good at it.”
Bells set the tone in Game 3 by going out and scoring five runs in the top of the first inning against Jayde Williamson. Kylie Stubbs, Hali Williams and Sloan singled to load the bases and Crane reached on an error as Williamson’s throw to the plate for the force was wild.
Branam followed with a sac fly, Cheyenne Floyd had a two-run double and the final run scored on a two-out error.
Moody rebounded with three runs in the bottom of the inning. A sac fly by Beth Bounds, a run on an error and an RBI single by Chassie Fisher made the margin just two runs. But during the inning Moody lost its third-hole hitter, Kayley Hale, for the rest of the game after she injured her left knee diving back to first base.
Branam settled down and allowed just two base runners the rest of the way. Ellena Munoz walked in the third but was stranded at third when Bella Smith threw out Reagan Vaughn at first base from right field to end the inning and Williamson had an infield single with out out in the fifth.
On the other side, Williamson was pulled after the first inning and replaced by Kali Chatham, who started the opener and was relieved by Williamson. The switch didn’t matter much.
“I don’t think they cared who it was,” Stephens said. “They didn’t want to lose that momentum.”
Sloan had an RBI groundout in the top of the second and then Bells added five runs in the third thanks to a two-out rally. Floyd reached on an error to open the frame but two quick outs brought up Chesney Blount in the nine-hole. She worked a walked and the top of the order made Chatham pay.
Stubbs had an RBI single, Williams singled to drive in a run and an error on the play scored Stubbs and then Sloan launched a two-run home run to left center. Crane followed that with a blast to straightaway center as Bells opened a 12-3 advantage.
The Lady Panthers capped the night with Sloan’s two-run homer and Branam’s solo blast in the fifth.
Bells forced the deciding game with an 11-1 victory in six innings. The Lady Panthers jumped to a 4-0 lead five batters into the game and never looked back.
Stubbs started it with a ground-rule double to center, Williams walked and Sloan lined an RBI single to left.
Williams scored on a wild pitch and then Branam hit a two-run homer to right.
Bells opened a 6-1 advantage in the fourth on RBI doubles by Kinley Ives and Stubbs. Moody switched pitchers in the fifth and the Lady Panthers went for the kill as the six of the seven batters reach base to enact the run-rule.
Blount doubled and then with one out, Williams, Sloan, Crane, Branam and Floyd all singled. The last four hits all drove in runs and Crane scored when Branam was safe in a rundown.
Branam was 3-for-4 with a homer, three RBI and two runs, Sloan was 3-for-4 with two RBI and two runs, Stubbs doubled twice and Bells finished with 17 hits – six for extra bases.
The only run for Moody came on a home run to left field by Munoz with one out in the second inning to cut the margin to 4-1.
Branam scattered just five hits — two apiece to Munoz and Chatham — and did not walk a batter. Moody had a chance to get back in the game in the fourth after a single by Munoz and an error started the inning. After a sacrifice, Michenna Aycock grounded back to Branam and Munoz was cut down at the plate following the out at first to end the threat.