Patience at the plate

Jason Della Rosa, Herald Democrat
Four years ago, Bells' Cheyenne Floyd (right) and Bella Smith started an amazing softball run that included back-to-back state titles. A chance at a third championship is on hold and may not resume due to the coronavirus pandemic. [Herald Democrat File Photo]

If it weren't for two seventh-inning swings, the fact that the rest of the high school softball season has been postponed until at least May and sits on a razor-thin edge of being cancelled would be hitting a lot harder for a pair of Bells Lady Panthers.

Even though Cheyenne Floyd and Bella Smith have a pair of state championship rings, the fact that their senior seasons have been brought to a halt amid the coronavirus pandemic still stings.

“At the beginning of the season, we had expectations and we made all these plans,” Smith said. “Our slogan this year was 'Live the legacy' and we've tried to do that.”

They and their teammates were out for revenge this spring in search of a third title in four years, another climb to the top of the mountain. Now those plans have been put on hold. At first it was scheduled to be a two-week delay. Then the University Interscholastic League pushed back that original stoppage through all of April. There is a chance the season ultimately gets cancelled.

“It feels like everything's just stopped. It's like there's a pause button on life around you and you're still living,” Floyd said. “If I'm completely honest I didn't realize it was this serious. I don't think anyone did. I mean when school was cancelled we thought we'd come right back. It didn't kick in until (the UIL delayed) the second time.”

During their freshman and sophomore seasons, Smith and Floyd were at the forefront of the Lady Panthers' title-winning efforts. Both times Bells went into the seventh inning of the championship game without the lead and both times an unforgettable rally, first against two-time defending champ Shiner, 7-6, and then over Normangee, 9-5, allowed them to come away with back-to-back 2A titles.

Floyd was the MVP of the first state tourney appearance and Smith was the MVP of the second.

“We're much more fortunate than other seniors,” Smith said. “I've never thought that anything was guaranteed.”

Then came last season, when Bells moved up in the latest realignment and had a showdown with Emory Rains in the Class 3A Region II final. Going into the match-up, the Lady Panthers sported a 35-1 record but ended up getting swept, 3-1 and 8-2, as Rains went 34-1 and finished as the state champs.

“We've had two great seasons but we also failed. I felt like this was going to be our year again,” Floyd said. “Personally I've put a lot of work in and my team has put a lot of work in. We were really looking forward to it. Our main goal was to get back to state.”

Had those comebacks never materialized in 2017 and 2018, this could have been the cruelest of endings for Floyd and Smith. In that alternate timeline, they would have lost to the eventual champion all three years and then had their final opportunity taken away by something completely out of their control — something never even on their minds as a possibility for the way their careers might end.

“I'm just really hoping the last game at Howe wasn't my last game,” said Floyd, who has signed with Tarleton State. “You always know when your last game could be and you can prepare for that and we weren't able to do that.”

From the first inning of that freshmen season, the duo has always produced.

When the games were halted earlier this month and Bells had a 15-2-2 record, Floyd was 7-2 with a 3.10 ERA and 84 strikeouts in 52 innings and was hitting .509 with nine home runs, 19 RBI and scored 27 times and Smith was batting .420 with seven home runs and 27 RBI and scored 32 times.

“I have a couple freshman on the team and they want to play with Bella and Cheyenne, feed off their talent, feed off their energy, feed off their success and that's getting taken away from them,” Bells head coach Kristina Stephens said. “You never expected this. I just want these girls to play again. To think it could be over is gut-wrenching.”

As juniors, Floyd finished 21-2 with a 1.73 ERA and 163 strikeouts in 133 innings. She also hit .412 with five home runs, 15 doubles, 46 RBI, 46 runs scored as a second-team all-state selection by the Texas Sports Writers Association and the District 10-3A Most Valuable Player.

Smith was a first-team all-state selection and first-team all-district after batting .530 with 20 homers, 14 doubles, four triples, 60 RBI and 61 runs scored.

As sophomores, Floyd was Texas Girls Coaches Association all-state, second-team all-state by the TSWA and first-team all-district by going 26-6 with a 2.44 ERA and 175 strikeouts in 180.2 innings. She carried a .404 batting average with six doubles, three triples, 26 RBI and 34 runs. She was also named to the all-state tournament team.

Smith was a first-team all-state pick and named first-team all-district after hitting .409 with nine home runs, 11 doubles, 45 RBI, 50 runs and 13 steals.

And when they burst onto the scene together four years ago, Floyd was 22-3 with a 2.41 ERA and 160 strikeouts in 136.1 innings while hitting .521 with 19 doubles, five triples, five home runs, 57 RBI and 38 runs as a TGCA all-state pick, a first-team all-state choice by the TSWA and selected as the District Newcomer of the Year.

Smith hit .423 with seven homers and 30 RBI. She was a second-team all-district pick in 13-2A and chosen for the 2A all-state tournament team.

With all that success, more was expected. There were 10 games left on the District 10-3A schedule and however many to come in the playoffs. Their classmate, Victoria Azevedo, was the starting right fielder before tearing an ACL on the second day of practice. That was a cruel ending for her. All Smith and Floyd want is a chance to go down swinging.

“Just having the uncertainty is hard. You never know how good it could have been,” Smith said with some emotion in her voice. “It's bigger than softball with this disease. I keep reminding myself of that. I have to give up my senior season to keep people safe.”