The Lady Mustangs had just come off a team-record 30-win season, and the expectations entering the 2012 campaign were either an appearance in the state championship game or bust.
Third-year varsity starter Malea Bell knew all too well the pressure she and her teammates were under.
“It was definitely a challenge because everyone expected us to do so well,” she said. “So we had to live up to that which is a lot harder than working your way up to something. We got the region championship, which was one of our goals, and our other goal was to make it farther than we did last year at state.”
Despite losing in the opening round of the Class AAAAAA state finals, Kennesaw Mountain battled through the losers’ bracket to reach the state championship game, earning its first state runner-up trophy.
“We had a team meeting with just the players that night after that first loss, and we talked about what we had been working on this whole season,” Bell said. “We had to do better, and we all just decided that we needed to get to that championship game, which we ended up doing. We just kept winning each game, and they were all close. But I’m very proud of our team.”
Bell was a key reason for Kennesaw Mountain’s success.
The junior shortstop led the team in several categories — including batting average (.414), runs scored (49), RBIs (38), home runs (10), and hits (48) from the lead-off position — and she is the 2012 Marietta Daily Journal/Cobb County Softball Player of the Year.
“I thought I was in trouble when (coach Lisa) Chapman texted me and asked me to come see her ASAP,” Bell said. “But she told me I got player of the year, so I was very surprised and really happy.”
A first-team all-county selection as a freshman outfielder and a sophomore second baseman, Bell has been one of Kennesaw Mountain’s most versatile players — and one of its most effective.
“She’s a person you can’t replace,” Chapman said. “She does what you ask her to do, and to be a leadoff or 2-hole hitter and get the kind of numbers she does at the plate, just shows how hard she works.
“I had six seniors that have been on this team since they were freshmen, and (Bell) was voted as one of our two captains. Even the upperclassmen voted for her. She’s a leader and has a presence about her. Not many players work as hard as she does to get better.”
Bell, who was also named the Region 4AAAAAA player of the year, credited the extra work she put in over the summer and during practice as the keys to her improved play. She spent time at a sports training center in Acworth to work on speed, agility and hitting, and she applied a better mental aspect to the game entering the season.
“I’ve definitely gotten stronger as a player and mentally because of my coaches and my teammates,” Bell said. “They’ve helped me grow so much. You learn the game better as you go on.”
Besides her team’s state runner-up finish, and its Region 4AAAAAA championship, Bell is also proud of her 10 home runs, which was something she hoped she’d achieve this year.
“That’s definitely an accomplishment,” she said. “Being a leadoff hitter, I was trying to get on base any way I could. I wasn’t going up there trying to hit home runs. I was going to walk or get a base hit.
“In past years, I haven’t been much of a power hitter. But I got a lot stronger this year and was hoping to get double-digit home runs, and I did.”
Bell’s hitting and defensive play helped spur Kennesaw Mountain to its best season, and it’s a year she says she’ll remember forever.
“I’m really proud of our team,” she said. “Everyone just came together and we did really, really well.”