Sixteen years later to the day, and with her father’s memory as inspiration, Bell made things happen for the Kennesaw Mountain softball team Thursday.
Bell hit a three-run home run that lifted the Lady Mustangs to a 6-3 win over Hillgrove in the decisive third game of the Region 4AAAAAA championship series.
“I knew (my father) was there with me, so I knew it was going to be a good day, and it was,” said Bell, who was 2-for-4 on the night. “He was there with me the whole time and helping our team out the whole time.”
The victory was Kennesaw Mountain’s second in a row in the best-of-three series, and it gave the Lady Mustangs back-to-back region titles.
“Back-to-back (region titles) is quite an accomplishment because of the level of talent of the other teams within our region,” Kennesaw Mountain coach Lisa Chapman said. “It’s something I try to instill in our girls to be proud of. This is one of the toughest regions in the state, and to come away with back-to-back region championships says a lot about our girls and how hard they work.”
Kennesaw Mountain (22-6) certainly did work hard.
Trailing 3-0, the Lady Mustangs didn’t get a baserunner until the fourth inning, when Bell led off with a double. Hillgrove pitcher Abby Evans ended up stranding runners on second and third, but Kennesaw Mountain was starting to find its groove.
“I think my hit helped the team come together for sure. Then, we started to rally,” Bell said. “We came together as a team. We were not going to lose with no hits. So, we started cheering and everyone got on the fence. If it wasn’t for our dugout, we wouldn’t have won.”
Kennesaw Mountain rallied for six runs in the fifth inning. The Lady Mustangs produced six hits — three of which went for extra bases, including Bell’s homer — and 10 batters came to the plate.
Ambria Derry tried to rally Hillgrove (24-6) with a leadoff home run in the seventh, but Kennesaw Mountain ace Kathryn Woody, who gave up four earned runs on six hits, retired the next three batters to clinch the title.
Woody, who also pitched both of Wednesday’s games, had two hits in the finale.
“It was a team win,” Woody said. “We all came together and worked it out. Pitching 21 innings was a lot, but I wanted to do it for my team and our five seniors.”
Madi Lewis was 1-for-2 with a double and two RBIs for Kennesaw Mountain. Kayla Aarons’ squeeze bunt in the fifth plated pinch-runner Brennan Phillips for the Lady Mustangs’ first run of the inning.
Amber Johns doubled, while Kelli McGrail and Abby Chandler each had one of Kennesaw Mountain’s nine hits. Lexi Bates, Paige Oliver and Aubrey Schafer all scored.
“Once you start swinging the momentum like that, it’s hard to come back late in the game,” Chapman said. “Our girls did a good job battling, all the way through until the end. It was a fun game to be a part of.”
Hillgrove took a 2-0 lead in the first when Kathryn Jackson’s two-run single plated Ashley Allen and Taylor DeCelles. Jackson added to the margin with a two-out RBI double in the fifth that scored Rachel Jarvis.
Evans allowed six earned runs on nine hits and struck out seven in six innings.
“We still get to go to the playoffs, no matter what,” Hillgrove coach Laura Voyles said. “It’s a tough thing. Both pitchers threw three games, so they’re going to get tired. We tried to find different ways to shut Malea Bell down, but she’s a good hitter. It’s hard to face her that many times and not give up a home run.”