You could look at the stat line for hours and not believe it, figuring if maybe you squinted, or stared long enough, the numbers would eventually change into something more believable.
But they don’t, because they’re real. Astoundingly real.
As in, 36 hits in 81 at-bats for a .444 average; five doubles, 22 runs scored, an eye-popping 12 home runs and an equally eye-popping 51 RBIs in 29 games.
From a sophomore.
Meet Steinert’s Bella Truelove, who strikes true fear in pitchers.
“I only pitched to her a few times,” said Nottingham hurler Becca Bocock, a fellow HGSA alumnus. “I was hurt when we played Steinert, but from what I’ve seen, it’s not fun.”
And her statistics were not believable.
“Her sophomore year was not even real,” Spartans coach Jenn Melker said. “For a sophomore, that was absolutely ridiculous.”
Even the player herself was a bit startled by her success.
“I was pretty shocked what the numbers were,” Truelove said. “They were pretty high.”
Pretty high? That’s like saying the North Pole is pretty chilly.
Truelove is now a senior, and it boggles the mind to think what her career numbers might be had she not missed last year due to Covid shutdowns. But the centerfielder/first baseman is glad to have a senior season to play.
In fact, when further interrogated about her sophomore campaign, Bella’s answer dealt with looking ahead rather than to the past.
“I’m just excited for this year and what it has to bring,” Truelove said. “We have a pretty solid offensive lineup this year and I think we’re very consistent. I think we’re pretty solid this year.”
Steinert is usually solid. In Bella’s first two seasons, the Spartans went a combined 52-8, winning the Group III and Tournament of Champions titles her freshman year, and claiming the Mercer County Tournament championship her sophomore season.
Truelove saw limited time in 9th grade until the post-season, when then-coach Jean Ruppert decided to throw her into the fire.
And it was the freshman providing the heat.
In the first inning of the TOC semifinals, Truelove blasted a three-run homer to lift Steinert to a 3-2 win over favored top-seed St. John Vianney.
“She had limited at-bats that year but when she got the opportunity she did stuff with it,” said Melker, an assistant that season. “Think about the pressure of the TOC. That’s not something that happens often to a player. We get there in 2018 and as a freshman she capitalizes and hits a huge home run. That’s an outstanding thing. I don’t think people can understand what kind of pressure was on her at that time and for her to capitalize on that was unbelievable.”
It was certainly memorable, as Trulove said “Being put in as a freshman and not having many chances, to do that was something I’ll never forget.”
The following season, in three MCT wins Truelove collected a home run and six RBIs, and in the championship game drove in the game’s lone run in a 1-0 win over eventual Group IV champion Hightstown.
Needless to say, area softball fans are anxious to see what Bella’s senior season holds. And she knows it.
“I feel like people are expecting a lot from me this year which makes for a lot of pressure,” Truelove said. “But I can handle it.”
That’s because she loves it. A softballer since age 4, Truelove started in the HGSA T-ball league and played for the Robbinsville Little League team that reached the World Series when she was 12.
That’s when she first learned about athletic tension.
“It was interesting,” Truelove said. “There was a lot of pressure on you, especially with cameras all around you.”
But she dealt and learned from it. Truelove played with the Hamilton Hurricanes travel team for a while before sampling numerous travel squads, including the Jersey Tigers, Witches, Cheetahs and Outlaws. It was through that array of teams that Georgian Court University began monitoring her.
“It started my freshman year,” she said. “I went to some of their hitting clinics and I was going back and forth with the coach, sending her my travel fall schedules and she came to watch me. It just went on from there. I kept going to their clinics, I went on a tour last August, she offered me and I accepted the offer. There were others I looked at but that was my top school.”
After committing in November, Truelove shed one of the issues that could burden a senior. She can now focus fully on helping Steinert.
And rest assured she is an absolute presence batting third in the lineup. Melker feels she brings “an energy” to the team and recalled an example.
“The bases were loaded with her coming up and the whole team just exploded,” the coach said. “Everyone was just like ‘This is it!’ I don’t know if that’s too much on a kid sometimes, but you could even look over at the other coaches and it was like an ‘Oh crap!’ kind of moment.”
Moments like that may be some of the few times Truelove gets decent pitches to hit.
“When we talk to coaches before or after the games, or even away from softball, they prepare for her,” Melker said. “They pitch her a certain way. They try to walk her on purpose most of the time. That can also get in your head when you’re getting walked all the time, you’re trying to swing at whatever you can at that point. That ends up happening and you don’t always get the best pitches.”
Truelove knows all too well that she will have to be patient, and feels she has the maturity to do so.
“That’s pretty important to be watching what they’re gonna do to you, where they’re throwing to you,” she said. “I’ve seen it already. People aren’t really throwing any good pitches to me. We played some scrimmages and I got walked a few times. I just have to wait and get a pitch I can hit.”
Melker is trying to get her better pitches by batting Truelove third. With solid hitters Kelsey Smith and Ceara O’Neal hitting four-five, they should provide protection for their slugger.
“That’s the main focus, is making sure they can’t work around her, and if they do there’s still someone backing her up,” Melker said. “We’re hoping that’s what happens.”
In discussing where Truelove gets her power from, the coach said it’s all in her legs, and jumped off her dugout seat to demonstrate what she meant.
“A lot of times people have that upper body strength and she generally does too, but all of it comes from her legs,” Melker said. “If she stands right, if she does not come in with that elongated thing and the power comes from here (pointing to her legs), that ball is gonna go out.”
The other key component is to not try and hit home runs but just make contact, which Truelove seems to understand.
“You just have a good at-bat every time up,” she said. “If you’re consistent with it, it doesn’t have to be a home run every time, which will get your numbers even higher.”
That can be easier said than done. How does one keep that mindset?
“Just stay relaxed, try not to think about it too much,” Truelove said. “Just think little hits every time, because little hits bring the score up higher and gets everyone up more. If the big hits happen, even better. It’ll happen. It’ll come that way.”
If she has a repeat of her sophomore year, it will keep on coming. Truelove, however, will not even think in terms of stats, but rather performance.
“I’d say being consistent with my hitting, driving in runs,” she said of her personal goals this year. “I just feel it’s more about consistent hitting instead of trying to get big hits.”
Having a big mouth is another story. In a good way, of course.
“She brings a lot of energy to our team,” Melker said. “When you hear us go ‘Spartans on three! Spartans on three! One, two, three!’ that’s her. She’s the voice of our team.”
And an awfully tough voice to silence.