Bianka Bell just wanted the inning to end, she acknowledged the next day.
The 40-minute top of the sixth dragged on and on as the LSU softball team scored 15 runs on 14 hits, hammering Louisiana Tech in its record-setting 30-8 win March 15.
Bell, however, played a part even as her patience was tested.
The senior infielder in that inning blasted one of her three home runs on the night, part a 4-for-5 outing in which she tied a program single-game record with nine RBIs. Despite the eye-popping numbers, that game was just another step on Bell’s quest to find, as she puts it, “the old Bianka.”
Bell closed the first month of the season with a .375 batting average and only one home run, a quiet start by her lofty standards. But since then, she has re-established her status as one of the most feared hitters in the nation using a fresh approach in the batter’s box.
“I’m just seeing the ball well now, starting to get back into the old Bianka,” Bell said. “Not trying to press at the plate, just being relaxed.”
LSU hitting coach Howard Dobson could pick out the little flaws holding Bell back in the beginning of the year.
She was chasing poor pitches, he said, or swinging too big in an attempt to pad her lead atop the program’s home run column. Dobson claimed Bell’s alterations have been mostly mental, noting a swing that has produced 51 home runs and 213 RBIs doesn’t require much tinkering.
“I think she has started waiting for her pitch a little more,” Dobson said. “She has started getting back into her legs and trusting her fundamentals, her hands and her swing. She’s letting her body react.”
The returns on that mental investment have been bountiful.
Over the Tigers’ past eight games, Bell has cranked six homers and raised her slugging percentage by nearly two-tenths of a point. Her hot streak started two weeks ago when she took Alabama ace Alexis Osorio deep in both of LSU’s wins against the sixth-ranked Crimson Tide.
She was named Louisiana Sportswriters Association player of the week.
No. 7 LSU may need similar production when it hosts unanimous No. 1 Florida for a three-game series this weekend. Not only do Bell’s big at-bats put runs on the board, they create a ripple effect of confidence that permeates the lineup.
“Everyone feeds off of her,” senior catcher Kellsi Kloss said. “Coach has always said, ‘As Bianka Bell goes, we go.’ When Bianka is swinging well, I think it’s easier for us to swing well.”
Bell has returned to old form at the plate while simultaneously adjusting to a new position in the field. After starting at shortstop in all but 10 games over the past three seasons, the senior has started splitting time between short and third base, a personnel change coaches made to give star freshman Amber Serrett reps at her natural position.
Bell’s experience manning third with the USA Women’s National Team last summer eased the transition, though she suggested she’s still adjusting to playing so close to the batter’s box. The senior has committed only three errors while starting 10 of the last 14 games on the hot corner.
“She has handled it great,” assistant coach Lindsay Leftwich said earlier this month. “She definitely could have been mad about it, like, ‘I’m your All-SEC, first-team All-American shortstop.’ But I think she sees in the purpose in it.”
In the wake of the move, LSU coach Beth Torina said “it took a lot” for Bell to relinquish her spot part-time. But it was an act of selflessness her teammates admired.
“At the end of the day, we’re just trying to win a national championship, and we’ll do whatever it takes to get there no matter what that means for any of us,” sophomore pitcher Carley Hoover said. “She’s being a leader by showing she’s willing to do whatever it takes.”
Coaches hinted Bell in the past had a tendency to let frustration linger, often struggling to move on from mistakes. It’s a trait that could hinder the senior’s resurgence at the plate or make her continued transition to third base a rocky one.
But that’s the only part of “the old Bianka” she has left behind.
“What everyone sees is the stuff on the field, but I think she’s night-and-day different as a person, especially being able to handle her emotions and frustration level,” Torina said. “Those things are where we see her biggest growth from the beginning. We would always try to pick her up.
“Now she’s the one picking up everyone else around her.”