April 9, 2010 11:27:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Starkville High School''s anchor on the softball field is headed to the next level.
Starkville first baseman Tamara Bell signed with East Mississippi Community College on Thursday, becoming the Lady Lions'' second signee.
Through the rebuilding Starkville coach Mimi Milling has faced the last two seasons, Bell has been a constant for the Lady Yellow Jackets.
Milling has leaned on Bell for leadership, example and quality defensive play in the infield.
Bell was rewarded with the scholarship offer she never thought would come.
Six years as a varsity player produced more lows than highs for Bell, but Milling believes her willingness to work hard even though the wins weren''t piling up established her as a college recruit.
And while Starkville has just five wins this season after winning one game last year, Milling believes the Lady Jackets'' talent gets overlooked.
"I knew that she had the potential to play college ball," Milling said. "Our biggest problem is we''re a young program and we don''t win that much, so nobody takes the time to look at our girls. When they take the time to look at us they realize we''ve got some of the best players.
"Tamara is the rock of our team and it''s going to be a big loss without her."
Bell, a .300 hitter, said EMCC coaches came to see her play when Starkville plays Ackerman.
Although she didn''t know at the time, the Lady Lions were getting their first look at their next first base recruit.
What EMCC saw was the same thing Milling saw the last two seasons: a hard-working defensive first baseman who is the leader of the team.
"She''s really aggressive, talks a lot and has good communication skills with her coaches throughout the game," EMCC assistant coach Casey Finch said. "She sacrifices herself at first base to make the out and she works hard on the bases as well as the plate."
Finch said EMCC, which finished 24-23 overall and 15-9 in district play, has one first baseman returning next season and foresees Bell competing for a starting job.
"It''s always good to have competition," Finch said. "(The players) fight each other and it''s whoever''s stick''s the hottest. It''s about who''s producing."
More than a reliable glove at first base, Bell''s leadership has been lauded by Milling since she took over the program last season. With a new coaching staff, Milling needed a player who would be an example and help her keep heads up through the team''s growing pains.
Bell''s experience made her an obvious pick to fill that role.
"I learned how to pick my teammates up when they get down and to tell them what''s right," Bell said. "It''s such a young team and I try to be there for them.
"I just want to thank all my coaches and family for being there for me. I wish my teammates luck next season and I''ll be coming back to see them."
At the next level, Bell said she needs to improve in all areas of the game, but Milling believes the biggest missing piece to Bell is her ability to hit for power.
"She''s a consistent hitter, not a power hitter," Milling said. "Offensively, if she can learn to use her size, she''s going to be a home run hitter at the next level."