BELLS — Exciting, long and stressful were some of the words the Bells baseball team used to describe the regional semifinal series against Valley Mills.

But after the dust settled, the team finds itself on the doorstep of advancing to their first state tournament. But in order to be the best, you have to beat the best.

The Panthers get that chance on Friday when they face the defending state champion Muenster Hornets in a one-game playoff Friday at 7:30 p.m. at McKinney North. The winner advances to the Class 2A state tournament on Wednesday afternoon in Round Rock.

Muenster got to the regional finals after sweeping Bosqueville last week.

“They are going to hit the ball hard, pitch well and make plays,” head coach Josh Weger said. “We can’t give them anything and we have to stay focused and make one play at a time. We need to do well in all areas because we know Muenster will do well.”

The Panthers enter this game with a high amount of confidence after defeating Valley Mills, 18-10, in a deciding Game 3 Saturday night in Weatherford. They were able to bounce back after being run-ruled, 12-2, in five innings in the first game Saturday.

“I think we came out a little too cocky in the first game Saturday and it showed,” designated hitter Jacob Taylor said. “The third game, we played well and were able to show what we were all about.”

“We just came out stronger,” pitcher and outfielder Eli Strickland said. “We knew the game was on the line and we had to get it done.”

Bells was able to get it done and cap off a memorable Saturday that started off with graduation that morning. Six seniors from the team — including Taylor and Strickland — were among those who received their diplomas.

The Panthers have also been sparked by several standout performances, which included Hunter Hawthorne’s 17-strikeout performance in Game 1 of the regional semifinal series. But as the team puts it, the fact that they’ve stayed together has been a big part of their deep playoff run.

“It means so much to get to this point,” Strickland said. “It’s not so much a class; it’s a family and we all play for each other.”

“Throughout the playoffs, it’s been somebody different that’s stepped up,” Weger said. “Whether it’s been our starters or someone coming off the bench, it’s really been a balanced effort.

The Panthers will now enter Friday’s game with a chance to make more history. After the long trips to Weatherford, the team is welcoming the chance to play closer to home.

“I’m excited for it,” Taylor said. “Hopefully, we’ll have a bigger crowd and that’ll pump us all up. We love the home crowd.”

“That’s definitely a bonus that it’s a shorter trip for both teams,” Weger said. “It makes it easier for everyone to get out and enjoy it.”

Even with the expected raucous atmosphere, the Panthers are just focused on taking care of business and getting to play in Round Rock next week.

“They’re a really good team,” Strickland said, “We just have to play our game.”

“We don’t feel like we have to go in this one game and rely on one guy,” Weger said. “We need to all be ready to make plays and hit the ball hard.”