Hills Helps North Branford Continue its Tradition of Excellence
During her time in the North Branford softball program, Bella Hills has become a three-time Shoreline Conference champion, an All-Conference honoree, and a captain of the Thunderbirds. As she moves on to play softball at Fairleigh Dickinson, Bella says that competing for North Branford allowed her love for the sport to flourish as she carved out a solid career on the ballfield.
Bella began playing softball in North Branford’s town league at the age of five. Once she got some experience under her belt, Bella realized how much she liked softball, particularly the competition and how close everyone became on her teams.
At the age of 10, Bella joined the Shoreline Sting and eventually played for her father Chris in the program. During this time, Bella began competing alongside players who remained her teammates through her senior year of high school. Bella says that her time with the Sting unlocked her passion for softball and helped her recognize how special her teammates were.
“When I played on that Shoreline Sting team, it was always a lot of girls from town. We’ve all always grown up playing together. It has been so cool to see how we have all grown up and matured together,” says Bella. “Each one of us knows each other so well. I knew I always had friends and people to go to no matter where I was.”
Bella joined the Thunderbirds as a freshman and immediately made the varsity roster. While she had mostly played shortstop growing up, Bella was North Branford’s starting left fielder in her freshman year. Also having been a pitcher for several years, Bella got her first opportunity on the varsity mound during her freshman campaign. Bella’s experience as a freshman helped her understand the importance of playing the outfield. However, no matter what position she was playing, Bella felt happy to simply get on the field in her first year with the program.
“I was just looking for a starting position no matter how I could get it. I love being in the outfield, making cool plays, and going all out,” Bella says. “I know when I’m pitching how important it is to get those pop-ups and those dinky balls. I like being out there knowing I can make those plays for whoever is pitching.”
At the time, Neil Swanchak was one of Bella’s assistant coaches. Bella says that Swanchak proved a huge influence during her transition to the outfield. As Bella began her high school career, the T-Birds’ veteran athletes played a huge role in helping her understand the tradition of competitiveness that’s inherent in the North Branford softball program.
“High school softball was a huge switch. I was the youngest. I didn’t expect much. I just knew I had to go in there and work hard,” says Bella. “The girls were great players and knew the game. They helped me a lot. Them mentoring us and telling us what we should do help me switch into the competitive atmosphere North Branford has.”
After her sophomore season was canceled, Bella returned to the Thunderbirds a junior, both pitching and playing the outfield. She had been playing travel softball with Extreme Chaos during her time away from the high school team in order to prepare for her junior year. Bella earned All-Shoreline Conference Second Team honors for league champion North Branford that season. While helping the T-Birds reign supreme, Bella felt proud to be recognized for what she had accomplished.
“It was cool. It was nice to be nominated. I didn’t expect that at all,” Bella says. “I don’t play for awards. I play to help my team win. It was nice to be recognized for things I had done that season.”
In her senior year, Bella guided North Branford to an outstanding season that saw the team post an overall record of 20-8, win its seventh-straight Shoreline Conference title, and then advance to the Class S state final. Bella and the T-Birds claimed the conference crown in her freshman, junior, and senior campaigns. Bella says that each year’s team was a tight-knit group and that winning the title again as a senior brought her North Branford softball career full-circle.
“The first time we won it was insane. It was so cool to be a part of the atmosphere,” says Bella. “My junior year when we won it was amazing. Being a senior and being able to do it again was even better. All three seasons, I was able to say I was a Shoreline champion. Each time, the girls were just as close.”
As a senior, Bella was named one of North Branford’s captains alongside fellow seniors Hanna Senerchia, Gianna DePino, and Lauren Ackerman. Bella wanted the younger players on the club to see her journey and view her as a strong role model for what it takes to succeed. Since she knew most of the girls on this year’s roster, Bella’s goal was to ensure that the Thunderbirds were always working hard in an effort to continue building the program according to Head Coach Nick DeLizio’s vision.
“We all did a really good job leading the team. This was a group of girls that connected really easily,” Bella says. “The girls clicked really well and, as senior captains, we were able to lead them through practices and show them the way Coach DeLizio wanted the program to be led. Everyone looked forward to it.”
Coach DeLizio says that Bella always brought a strong work ethic to the North Branford softball program. That work ethic helped Bella win the team’s Desire and Dedication Award as a senior. Alongside Bella’s work on the field, DeLizio says that the senior captain’s passion for softball helped the Thunderbirds shine on the diamond this year.
“Bella’s in-season and out-of-season work is admirable. She strives to perfect her craft each day, whether it’s working out multiple times a day or going to pitching and hitting lessons on top of getting extra reps after practices,” says DeLizio. “Her passion for the game was a huge reason for our success this season.”
Bella will continue her softball career at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck, New Jersey. Bella has dreamed about playing college softball from a young age. Once she found the right school and realized that her dream would come true, Bella knew that all the hard work she’s put in over the years had come to fruition.
“When I was little and people asked me what I wanted to do in college, there was never any hesitation. I always knew I wanted to play. I just didn’t know where,” says Bella. “It was such a relief. I was so happy that everything worked out, and I was very happy with the school I picked. All my hard work from when I was little paid off.”
Bella’s four years with the North Branford softball team saw her earn numerous accolades as she helped the Thunderbirds continue their dominance of the Shoreline Conference. Bella loved playing for the T-Birds and is excited to compete at the collegiate level. As she moves on to the next chapter, Bella feels proud to have represented North Branford on the softball field while sharing her passion for the game with a bunch of teammates who she could always trust in any situation.
“It has been such a great ride. I’ve enjoyed every moment of it. It’s sad that it’s over, but a new chapter has to begin,” Bella says. “I know that the girls will carry it over. I’m excited for them, and I’m excited for my future. Softball really carried me throughout all of my years.”