McKINNEY — There were enough things across just about every inning which made the difference in the outcome.
Had the Emory Rains Lady Cats done a few more early, then the game wouldn’t have been in the balance to the final out. Had they broken in the direction of the Bells Lady Panthers, the feelings going into Game 2 would have decidedly been flipped.
But Rains was led by two spots in the order — Leo Terry at leadoff and Elissa Elliott in the five-hole — and Chanlee Oakes kept Bells off balance long enough for a 3-1 victory in the opening game of the Class 3A Region II final series at McKinney Boyd on Wednesday night.
Rains (31-1) will look to advance to the state tournament with a victory in Game 2 at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday. Bells (35-2) will try to force a deciding contest at 6:30 p.m. on Friday.
“It’s a game of inches. We made some adjustments late in the game,” Lady Panthers head coach Kristina Stephens said. “Gotta come back and get them.”
Since the start of the 2017 playoffs, Bells is 16-0 when facing elimination as it chases its third straight state title after moving up from 3A this spring — including last year’s region final when it rallied with two wins to top Crawford. Rains, which was a 4A semifinalist last year, did just enough to put the Lady Panthers in that position. Terry walked three times, stole three bases and scored twice while Elliott was 4-for-4, scored the other run and drove in another. The other seven spots in the lineup combined to reach safely just three times against Cheyenne Floyd, who scattered six hits and four walks to go with eight strikeouts.
Chesney Blount’s one-out double to right center brought the tying run to the plate in the bottom of the seventh but also the bottom of the order and Oakes picked up back-to-back strikeouts, the last her seventh of the night, to seal the win.
The Lady Cats picked up an insurance run in the top of the inning on Elliott’s RBI single up the middle. Terry walked, stole second and was nearly nabbed on the bases when Presley McAree grounded to short.
Gabby Smith bluffed the throw to first and chased down Terry, tagging her with a dive back to the bag. But the ball came out as Smith landed and everyone was safe. So with two outs instead of the inning being over, Elliott’s hit made Bells’ comeback attempt a little harder.
The Lady Panthers needed all of two batters in the sixth to halve their margin. Alexis Tanguma doubled to right center and then Floyd bounced a hit over Oakes into center for a 2-1 margin. The opportunity to tie the game ended when Mia Moore lined into an inning-ending double play.
Rains tacked on a run in the sixth when Elliott led off with an infield single and stole second. With one out, Sarah Coffman dunked a hit into right field. Victoria Azevedo came up with a strike to the plate that beat Elliott but she was safe, giving the Lady Panthers a two-run deficit with six outs to go.
Bells missed an opportunity to tie or take the lead in the bottom of the fifth when it had a pair of runners in scoring position with one out.
Chenzie Hale bunted for a hit when she beat the throw from Oakes and then took second on a wild pitch. Blount sacrificed her to third.
Oakes was able to get a strikeout and then Gabby Smith was about seven feet from putting the Lady Panthers ahead with a long fly near the right field line that was over Skylar Monroe’s head. It turned out to only be a long foul ball and Smith ended up popping out to short.
The Lady Panthers were still down just 1-0 going to the bottom of the fifth because Rains got a little too aggressive on the bases. Terry walked, stole second and moved to third on a groundout to short. Oakes, the No. 3 hitter, then laid down a squeeze but it was right back to Floyd, who threw home for Moore to apply the tag for the second out. A strikeout followed.
Bella Smith had the first hit for the Lady Panthers when she dunked a single into left center despite the diving try of Jaylee Sims for the third out of the fourth. Oakes induced a groundout to end the potential for a bigger inning.
Floyd worked out of trouble in the fourth after back-to-back hits from Elliott and Catrin Hoffman, who was bunting, began the inning. Rains then sacrificed the runners up but they didn’t go any farther thanks to a comebacker and another strikeout.
Bells had its first base runner when Blount reached on an error to open the third and was sacrificed to second by Lainie Snavely. A strikeout and sharp groundout to short left the Lady Panthers trailing.
The Lady Cats jumped in front in the third on a two-out wild pitch. Terry led off with a full-count walk and stole second. Gabby Smith snared a liner at short and a pop-out to second nearly allowed Floyd to escape unscathed. A wild pitch then moved Terry to third and another, in a two-strike count, provided the 1-0 advantage for Rains.
Emory Rains had chances in the first two innings, stranding runners in scoring position both times. In the first, McAree reached on a one-out error and stole second before Floyd ended the frame with a strikeout. Then the second, the Lady Cats wasted a leadoff double down the left-field line by Elliott. A strikeout and lineout to second preceded a walk before another inning-ending whiff.
Oakes sent Bells down in order the first two frames.