Larger than Life: Mill Creek's Morgan Bell -- (Photo Illustration by: Nicole Puckett/Brendan Sullivan)
Not too long ago, Morgan Bell was the kid.
She was a regular utility player and the only freshman on the varsity team during the 2010 season, working her way into a major contributing role the next year as a sophomore for Mill Creek’s state runner-up team.
Surrounded by older high school players, she was content to play her role behind upperclass standouts like Nikki Sagermann, who now plays at Kentucky.
“It was scary,” Bell said of her first varsity season. “It was hard. All the seniors were nice to me, but it was hard being the only little freshman around those other girls. But I got comfortable after awhile.”
Those days seem far away now.
Bell is now in that senior leader role, the one Sagermann had when the Hawks fell just short of a state championship. She has a solid core of seniors around her, but underclassmen abound, too.
Of the whole group, she has the most high school softball experience by a long shot. It’s why her teammates call her “Ma Bell,” a nod to her mother-like qualities.
“They call her that, not that she’s old, she’s just been on the varsity for four years,” Mill Creek softball coach Roger Parham said. “She leads by example. She’s always on time. She always does the little things. … She’s also very humble. That’s one of her greatest attributes. It’s refreshing when kids have as much success as she’s had and have played at such a high level like she has, and they remain humble.
“She plays at a very high level of travel ball, but she’s committed to our program. She understands the importance of high school softball and the friendships you make through it.”
Entering the 2013 season, Bell is now the Hawks’ go-to player, a defensive anchor at third base and the key bat in the lineup.
She hit .326 with three homers and 26 RBIs as a sophomore for the state runner-up squad, then hit .374 last season with five homers and 45 RBIs. A power hitter coming off an ASA National Championship victory with her Atlanta Vipers travel team, she has a goal list that includes topping Sagermann’s season home run record of 11, set during the 2011 run to the state finals.
“She’s a great kid, a great leader,” Parham said. “She always has a smile on her face. She has a lot of experience in high school ball and travel ball. She’s worked extremely hard and had a great summer with her travel team. I see her being a really, really good college player in the future. She’s a power hitter. She can go gap to gap and also has the power to hit the ball out.”
The more pressing goals, Bell said, are for her team.
Mill Creek’s aspirations include a title in tough Region 7-AAAAAA and another trip to the state finals in Columbus.
“I think this is going to be one of our good seasons,” Bell said. “We’ll have pretty good pitching and we have a lot of seniors who have been in the program for a long time. We all know what to do and how to do it.
“I think this year we can make it really far. We have a really good chance at state, too. It was the same (in 2011), a lot of seniors that year. A lot of seniors this year. I feel like it was meant to be.”
Bell looks at her recruiting journey with the same attitude.
An early commitment to Georgia Tech, her dream school, she was excited to be joining a large contingent of Gwinnett players at the ACC school. But longtime Yellow Jacket head coach Sharon Perkins’ contract wasn’t renewed earlier this year, prompting her to consider renewed interest from other colleges.
One of those was Mississippi State, which has lured standouts from Gwinnett like Sam Lenahan of Collins Hill and Heidi Shape of Norcross in recent years. After considering her options, Bell committed to the SEC program.
“Tech was where I really wanted to go,” Bell said. “I loved the coaches. A couple of months ago, the coach got fired and it changed a lot of stuff. Other schools started asking me to take visits. I visited Mississippi State and just fell in love with it.
“After everything that happened, I felt like there was a reason I was supposed to be at Mississippi State. … It was hard to turn down Tech because I was still in love with Tech. I was so excited to go there. A bunch of my friends were going there and we had all this stuff planned. But I had to do what was best for me. That was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made.”
With that behind her, she can focus on high school softball.
The Hawks hope to improve last year’s 23-15-1 record, which is very possible with their seasoned group of returning players.
“It’s my senior year, so I want to go out the right way,” Bell said.