Early last season, the Mississippi State outfielder thought her career was done after suffering an ACL injury. Bell had played in nine games and wasn’t sure she would be eligible for a redshirt.
Well, she was eligible – barely – and Bell now finds herself leading the Lady Bulldogs into an NCAA regional. MSU (33-22) will open play at 5 p.m. today in Eugene, Ore., against BYU (43-13) in a double-elimination affair.
Host Oregon will play Portland State.
It’ll be the third NCAA appearance for Bell, but those trips in 2008 and ’09 seem so long ago. After getting hurt last season, Bell didn’t know if she would have the experience again.
“I had my mind made up that I was going to be great, and I worked extra hard during the fall, and I just busted my butt. I was ready to be a good player for my team my last year out. It got taken away from me,” she said.
Bell did her rehab last summer, graduated in December and felt re-energized by first-year coach Vann Stuedeman. Bell said she couldn’t pass up one more year of college softball.
She’s hitting .381 with nine home runs and 35 RBIs. In her two previous NCAA appearances, Bell was a combined 7 of 13 with a double and home run.
She and MSU’s other four seniors have been talking all season about reaching the NCAAs, with Bell advising younger players to “not be afraid of who we play. ... If we just come out there and we play hard and play Mississippi State softball, we’re going to do well.”
BYU, champion of the WAC, has won 19 of its last 20 games and is making its eighth consecutive NCAA appearance. The Cougars are led at the plate by J.C. Clayton (.428 batting average, 53 runs) and Delaney Willard (.428, 18 home runs, 88 RBIs).
“At this point everybody’s good, so you’re just going to have to out-gut everybody,” Stuedeman said. “It’s resiliency and fight that gets you through the postseason.”