McKINNEY — It was going to be hard because going for a title, let alone a third straight, doesn’t just get handed to you.
The Lady Panthers know this from first-hand experience. They know because while they have held up the hardware the past two seasons, it was not even close to a given either time. There were times where Bells made it look easy and that’s because really good teams have really good ability.
And unfortunately for the Lady Panthers, the 17th time was the charm for a really good opponent. Chanlee Oakes held down a powerful lineup for a second straight night and Emory Rains raced to an early lead to defeat Bells, 8-2, and sweep the Class 3A Region II final series at McKinney Boyd on Thursday.
“There’s no words that will make them feel better,” Bells head coach Kristina Stephens said. “It’s a great season. It’s a great season for me. But a lot of these girls haven’t gone through this. With what we’ve done the past two seasons, it’s going to be disappointing.
“If they can get through this and push harder and remember how it feels, then they’re growing. I can’t be more proud of these girls.”
Emory Rains (32-1) will play in a Class 3A state semifinal at either 3 or 6 p.m. on Wednesday in Austin. It is the second straight state tourney appearance for the Lady Cats, who were 4A semifinalists with a 33-6 record last spring.
For the first time since the 2016 region semifinals, Bells (35-3) was not able to stave off elimination like it had in the previous 16 attempts from the other dugout. But don’t be surprised if the two meet again with a state berth on the line in 2020 — the Lady Panthers lose just two starters in first baseman Chesney Blount and designated player Jalen Hartline while Rains graduates just one.
The Lady Panthers weren’t going to go down without a fight, not for a group which had won both of its titles with seventh-inning rallies.
And while the deficit to even force extra innings was large, there was a little bit of a jolt when Bella Smith opened the seventh with a double to left center and Mia Moore drove her in with a single to right.
A pair of forceouts put Rains on the brink of advancing before Hartline reached on an error that put two runners in scoring position. A comebacker to Oakes kept the top of the order from getting another crack and Bells was eliminated, the first time in three years someone had finally been able to finish them off.
Outside of scoring in the fourth and seventh innings, the only other base runner for Bells came in the fifth when Blount worked a one-out walk but was stranded at first.
Cheyenne Floyd put the Lady Panthers on the board with an RBI single in the top of the fourth. Her hit to right field plated Alexis Tanguma, who led off the inning with a double into the left-field corner and moved to third on Gabby Smith’s groundout to second.
Oakes had retired the first nine Lady Panthers she faced with four groundouts and three strikeouts.
Bells found itself down 8-0 after three innings as Rains continued to aggressively force the Lady Panthers into mistakes.
Elissa Elliott and Catrin Hoffman had hits which didn’t leave the infield and then Sarah Coffman pushed a bunt to the left of the circle to give the Lady Cats a 6-0 lead. Alexis Kearney loaded the bases with a hit before Jaylee Sims lifted a pop foul off first base.
Hoffman bluffed a tag at third and Blount threw home and the ball ended up at the backstop, allowing a run to score. Leo Terry then groundout out and Coffman came racing towards the plate, getting in ahead of Mia Moore’s swipe tag.
Bella Smith made a pair of strong defensive plays in center in back-to-back innings to save two runs. She threw out Kearney at the plate to end the third and then made a diving catch to rob Hoffman to end the fourth with a runner at third.
With the bases empty, Victoria Azevedo made it three straight inning-ending highlights with a running, lunging catch in the right-center gap to close out the fifth.
The Lady Cats pushed their lead to 5-0 in the second with the help of a couple errors. Coffman opened the inning with a single to right and came all the way around on Kearney’s triple to right field.
Sims bunted and it was right back to Floyd, who was able to hold Kearney at third but her throw to first pulled Blount off the bag at first. Terry followed with an RBI groundout to short.
Presley McAree hit a pop-up to shallow left and there was a collision as Jaiden Tocquigny came in and was about to make the catch and Gabby Smith was going out for the grab. The ball came loose and Sims scampered home.
Rains put the Lady Panthers in an early hole with a pair of first-inning runs. Terry chopped a double over third base and McAree followed with an infield single to the left side to put runners at the corners.
Oakes lifted a sacrifice fly to right center and McAree scored on a wild pitch for the 2-0 advantage.
“We didn’t have a lot of composure at the beginning,” Stephens said. “They found holes and we made some mistakes. It didn’t fall our way.”