Bianca Bell closing in on LSU’s softball home run mark _lowres

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- LSU infielder Bianka Bell (27) bats against Memphis starting pitcher Jordan Richwood (11), Friday, Feb. 6, 2015, at LSU's Tiger Park in Baton Rouge, La.

LSU coach Beth Torina always knew shortstop Bianka Bell would reach this day soon enough.

Even before Bell first put on a Tigers uniform, Torina saw the potential for one of the best hitters in program history.

Now, only 10 game into her junior season, Bell is three home runs shy of becoming LSU’s all-time leader, surpassing Rachel Mitchell’s record of 33 from 2007-10. She’s currently tied for third with Julie Wiese at 31.

“When she was in ninth grade in high school, I understood what a good hitter (Bell) was,” Torina said. “From the moment she’s stepped on campus, she’s been special.”

The Tampa Bay native already has five home runs on the season heading into Tuesday’s home matchup with Louisiana Tech and doesn’t appear to be slowing down any time soon with a 1.091 slugging percentage.

Bell is currently on pace for more than 27 home runs by the end of the regular season. By comparison, Georgia’s Alex Hugo led the nation last year with 25 homers.

On top of her blistering home run pace, Bell is currently on an eight-game hitting streak, with 17 hits and 16 RBIs in her first 33 plate appearances of the season, giving her a team-leading .515 batting average.

In years past, Bell would’ve been obsessed with those numbers, constantly setting goals and getting frustrated when she wouldn’t meet them.

But now in her third season with the Tigers, Bell is more relaxed and focused on performing at each individual at bat instead of getting caught up in the big picture.

In fact, she was completely unaware she was even approaching the milestone.

“I’m not really big on records or stats or anything like that,” Bell said with a surprised look. “But that’s pretty exciting news.”

LSU hitting coach Howard Dobson said Bell always had the physical tools and the technical skills to produce numbers like she’s been doing, but it’s that growth in maturity that’s setting her apart this season.

The biggest difference in Dobson’s eyes is the way Bell allows herself to step up to the plate and produce instead of going out there and trying to force something to happen — something he and the rest of the staff have been waiting two years for.

“We wanted to get that the first couple years but she was so aggressive,” Dobson said. “And now, she’s starting to really come into her own. It looks like she owns the box.”

Both Bell and Dobson declined to make any predictions of where the run might end because to them, the only thing that matters is that it lasts as long as it can.

“We’re just going to enjoy it while it lasts,” Dobson said. “A special kid like that doesn’t come around often and when you get one, you let them go and try to ride it as long as you can. If it does end, we’ll try to start another one.”