TAMPA — Her mobility was gone, but no one could stop her. Her power dissipated, but she held strong. Planting her left foot brought excruciation, but she remained firm in her stance.
Torn left meniscus or not, Chamberlain shortstop Bianka Bell wasn’t about to give up her junior season of softball.
“She just wouldn’t stop,” veteran Chiefs coach Bobby Diez said.
“We tried to (shut her down), but her passion to play ball is beyond belief,” added her father, Joe. “She plays through injuries, she plays through sickness, pain, she’s that type player. She loves the sport; she doesn’t believe in taking time off.”
A year after leaving her passion for softball unquestioned, playing virtually all of 2011 on one leg, Bell now is doing the same with her power.
Almost completely healthy for the first time since her sophomore season, Bell — the county’s most dangerous leadoff hitter from a pure pop standpoint — is hitting .656 with three home runs and eight RBIs in 11 games.
The homer total spikes to five when you consider the two she hit in the preseason, including one against Polk County juggernaut Bartow.
“I’ve coached a lot of good players. I’ve never coached one as strong as she is,” Diez said. “The ball comes off her bat, it’s a ton.”
Credit a collection of attributes ranging from A to Z — ancestry to zeal.
An LSU signee and softball junkie, Bianka’s dad was a four-sport standout at Plant. She’ll be the third of Joe and Anne Bell’s four kids to play softball in the SEC, joining Brittany and Briana, both of whom are at Mississippi State.
As of Tuesday, Brittany led the SEC in three offensive categories including batting average (.500). Yet in terms of work ethic, even Joe acknowledges Brittany would have to wake up pretty early — like, 3:27 a.m. — to catch Bianka.
Each game day, the alarm in the Bells’ Valrico home blurts at that minute, commencing a series of game-day rituals steeped in sugar and superstition.
Before dawn, Bianka will update her iPod, complete any household chores or homework, then hit a local Dunkin’ Donuts to purchase 50 Munchkins for her first-period class.
When she arrives at the park, she places her two bats in a spot where they won’t touch anyone else’s. She won’t get into her uniform until completing all warmups, then puts it on the exact same way every time (socks first then Under Armour, etc.).
“And I tuck everything in the exact same way,” she said.
One spring ago, meticulousness was accompanied by misery. In an early-season game (she thinks it was the March 1 contest against Sickles), Bell attempted a pop-up slide into first base when her left leg jammed into the ground.
“It was excruciating pain,” she said. “As soon as I felt it, I was like, ‘Wow.’ ”
A couple of weeks later, doctors gave the grim diagnosis. Advised to sit out and rest the knee, she compromised, staying off the field but not off Diez’s lineup card. Relegated mainly to a DH role, Bell still hit around .300, but had no home runs.
Chamberlain lost in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs.
“(Diez) would let me hit and I couldn’t run at all, and it just made it worse,” Bell said. “… It was bad so he didn’t even let me bat after a while. I was popping up or (hitting) dribblers, and he was like, ‘You just need to take a break.’ ”
The layoff was minimal. That summer, she helped guide her dad’s Tampa Mustangs 18-under travel ball team to a seventh-place finish in the Amateur Softball Association’s Gold National tournament in San Diego.
These days, the only noteworthy tear is the one Bell is on. She has hit safely in every game for the Chiefs (10-1), who enter tonight’s contest at Sickles averaging nearly 11 runs.
“(The knee) is a lot better,” she said. “It’s a little awkward when I’m squatting or doing little stuff, but other than that I’m great.”