Bells outlasts Bonham, advances

Jason Della Rosa
Herald Democrat
Bells' Gabby Smith digs the ball during the Lady Panthers' win over Bonham in a District 11-3A play-in game at S&S.

SADLER — It was a gamble Bonham was willing to take, that the Lady Warriors could beat Bells in their only shot rather than have the safety net of playing twice.

But the Lady Panthers are used to having their backs against the wall after spending the previous two weeks knowing they couldn’t lose if they wanted to keep their playoff hopes alive.

“With the type of team we are, we fight,” Bells head coach Lisa Johnson said. “We’re used to it. They’re gamers.”

After winning their final three matches — and getting a forfeit from Bonham in the middle of that streak — Bells made the most of its opportunity as the Lady Panthers defeated the Lady Warriors, 25-22, 21-25, 25-20, 15-25, 15-7, in a District 11-3A play-in match at S&S.

Gabby Smith had 19 kills and five digs, Jaiden Tocquigny added 10 kills, Cheznie Hale handed out 19 assists to go with six kills, Blair Baker finished with 10 assists and five digs and Mia Moore collected nine digs for Bells (13-11), which advances to the playoffs for the seventh time in eight seasons.

The Lady Panthers will will face Emory Rains, the District 12-3A champion, in a Class 3A Region II bi-district match at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday at Southard Middle School in Princeton.

Alli Kirkpatrick, Breauna Killgo and Jordan Fite led offensively for Bonham, which was trying to make the playoffs for the third straight year.

The Lady Warriors forfeited their final three matches of the season after positive COVID-19 tests within the school, including one against Bells when a victory by Bonham — which won the first meeting in five games — would have clinched a berth.

Instead of trying to make it up and then deal with a play-in, the Lady Warriors hoped Bells would lose to either Leonard or Whitewright in the final week of the season or then defeat the Lady Panthers in a winner-take-all contest.

“At one point it wasn’t in our control,” Johnson said. “Our goal was just to finish strong, even if we didn’t make playoffs. Everything with the forfeits put it in our hands.”

Bells didn’t obliged with any part of Bonham's plan, finding a way to survive each step of the way. The final one was worthy of two teams on equal footing in the standings. They traded games with Bonham winning Game 4 to extend the match before the Lady Panthers kept their composure and were never really threatened in Game 5.

“Bonham came out and pushed back,” Johnson said. “Our girls came out ready that final set.”

Tocquigny helped lead Bells to a 4-1 lead in the deciding frame and Bonham tried to get back in it. Fite’s kill trimmed that margin to 6-4 but it was as close as the Lady Warriors would get.

Smith had three kills during the ensuing 6-1 run and got help from Hale and Bailee Dorris as the gap widened to 12-5 and the Lady Panthers finished it out just a couple of points later.

The Lady Warriors never trailed in Game 4. Bonham scored the first six points before Bells battled back. The Lady Panthers got within two points four times — the last at 13-11. Bonham had a 6-1 spurt for a 21-13 lead and Game 5 was imminent.

Bells was able to survive in Game 3 and move on the verge of a victory. The Lady Panthers were down 10-9 before a 6-0 run but then Bonham immediately answered with seven straight points.

Smith had a pair of kills around a Bonham error when the score was tied at 18 and Bells never relinquished the lead.

The first two games were back-and-forth affairs.

Bells won the opener, which was close after the Lady Warriors jumped to a 4-1 lead. The Lady Panthers had the upper hand for a stretch before Bonham went in front at 19-18 — its first advantage since 8-7 — and held a 21-18 lead but couldn’t maintain it.

Kayton Arnold and Dorris combined on a block to give Bells a 22-21 lead and Bonham’s chance to tie the score at 23 went away on the Lady Warriors’ seventh service error of the game and allowed the Lady Panthers to take a 1-0 lead on the ensuing point.

Bonham used a 6-1 run in the early stages of Game 2 for an 11-5 margin but Bells responded with a 5-1 burst to tie the score at 11.

The Lady Panthers were up 18-17 when Bonham scored six of the next seven points on the way to tying the match.

District 11-3A play-in

Bells              3

Bonham        2