As Bianka Bell trotted back to the dugout after her final at-bat in Tiger Park, Emily Griggs gave an odd piece of advice to the most prolific power-hitter in LSU softball history.
“I told her to hit the weight room,” Griggs recalled with a laugh two days later.
Bell, daughter to a former powerlifter, had spent more than enough time in weight rooms, forming herself into the strongest player on the team. She said before the season she squatted 340 pounds, and her school-record 56 career home runs are evidence of that strength and explosiveness.
The senior infielder seemed to smash No. 57 in the top of the seventh inning of the Baton Rouge regional championship game against Arizona State on Sunday. But center fielder Jennifer Soria scaled the wall in dead center, robbing Bell of the homer in an ironic twist that produced a chuckle from coach Beth Torina.
“I didn’t think about that,” she said. “ … But I think Bianka Bell has done so many special things that I think she’s going to continue to hit plenty of home runs as this year goes on.”
The No. 10 seed Tigers still triumphed 2-0, sweeping their regional to earn a trip to No. 7 seed James Madison for a best-of-three super regional beginning at 2 p.m. Friday in Harrisonburg, Virginia.
Tiger Park gave Soria a standing ovation for her Herculean efforts to keep the Sun Devils within two runs in the elimination game. Torina and her players didn’t withhold their applause, either.
“That kid made a great play on the ball when they were fighting for their lives,” Torina said. “She’s a senior too, so she was out there fighting for her life.”
Video replays showed Bell, who has not met with the media since, wearing an astounded smile as she retreated to LSU’s dugout. Instead of basking in a storybook ending to her final home game, the four-year starter came to terms with the ironic situation.
“After she hit the ball,” junior catcher/infielder Sahvanna Jaquish said, “she was kind of like, ‘Oh well, that would happen to me. Yep, I would get robbed of a home run in my last at-bat.’ ”
Griggs made sure she got the point.
“I think it’s funny just because Bianka is my best friend,” the sophomore said. “She’s the strongest person on our team, and she had just gotten robbed. So I’m going to give her a whole lot of grief.”
Hoover selected to Elite Team
In the last two weeks, Carley Hoover has earned recognition as second-team All-Southeastern Conference, second team All-South Region and Baton Rouge regional MVP.
But the most prestigious accolade came Tuesday afternoon.
LSU’s sophomore pitcher was one of six players added to the USA Softball Women’s Elite Team, the Amateur Softball Association/USA Softball announced. Hoover is 20-7 with two saves this season, racking up a 2.25 ERA and 207 strikeouts in 171 innings.
She joins Bell, Griggs, junior right fielder Bailey Landry and assistant coach Howard Dobson on the USA Women’s National Team.
LSU and JMU have never met in softball, but the teams’ coaches are a little familiar with each other.
Torina and Dukes coach Mickey Dean crossed paths while coaching in National Pro Fastpitch. Dean was the head coach for the Chicago Bandits from 2004-10, while Torina spent three years as an assistant for the USSSA Florida Pride before manning the head position in 2011-12.
“I’ve known Beth for a very long time. I know LSU is very well-coached,” Dean said in a phone interview Tuesday. “Thankfully for the two of us, it’s a matter of letting our teams play and our decisions not screwing it up.”
JMU softball fans didn’t want to miss their team’s first super regional appearance.
The school sold out for a capacity crowd of 1,450 within “30 seconds to three minutes” Tuesday morning, said JMU communications assistant Kelly Higbie. Veterans Memorial Park seats only 500, but additional bleachers and overflow seating on a hill in right field allowed nearly 1,800 people to attend the Dukes’ regional last weekend.
Dean said the regional crowd was “absolutely” the biggest he’d seen while at JMU.
“It’s nice when you show up and your crowds are larger and they’re cheering for you,” he said. “That has been a great experience.”