When she was the eighth-grade manager for Beatrice, Marinda Bryant had a front row seat to her high school softball future.

Playing the position Bryant would eventually inherit was Alicia Armstrong, a two-time All-Nebraska selection who hit .690 as a senior. As Bryant is leading Beatrice during her senior season, so will Armstrong as the senior shortstop for the Huskers.

Care to guess which school Bryant will attend next season?

That's right, she's got a scholarship to Nebraska.

None of that was planned; it's just how things worked out for two talented players from the same school.

"We've texted a couple of times," Bryant said. "I hit with her last winter just because she wanted to keep hitting during her break."

Taking extra swings and ground balls — including nights and weekends — is just a part of how Bryant has worked to improve, Beatrice coach Dennis Dodge said.

Bryant is having an Armstrong-like campaign while leading the Lady Orange to a 21-4 record with two weeks remaining in the regular season.

"She works so hard to improve and be the best she can," Dodge said. "She's a great team leader; she's always one of first ones there and usually the last to leave.

"Sometimes she has coaches meet her out there on weekends and weekday evenings for extra hitting and ground balls."

Through Beatrice's victory Tuesday night against Ralston, Bryant is hitting .542 with nine doubles, three triples, five home runs and 38 RBIs. She also has scored 38 runs and stolen 10 bases.

Bryant owns a number of the school's single-season records, including 75 hits, 50 RBIs and 53 runs. She also is tops with 32 career doubles and 25 consecutive games with a hit.

While she has shined most brightly at the plate, Dodge said, Bryant's work ethic has helped her make considerable progress on the base paths and on defense.

Participating in basketball and soccer — just as Armstrong did — has helped Bryant develop her skills and become a better all-around athlete.

"That (speed) came more as I got older and started lifting weights more," Bryant said.

Dodge said there were still some struggles with fielding last season. Balls hit directly at Bryant at times made her flinch, but that's no longer the case.

"I have more confidence this year because I've definitely learned to charge the ball more," Bryant said. "There is more time to make errors when they're hit right at you, but going after those plays harder really helps."

Dodge said Bryant entered the realm of elite hitters as a junior, especially as the postseason approached.

Bryant said she started feeling better about her swing in her sophomore season. As a junior, she said, "I think I exploded more than I have before."

The Class B Lady Orange are facing a tough slate Saturday in their pool of the Lincoln Southeast Invitational — Class A foes Lincoln North Star, Kearney and Omaha Marian.

"We just look at that as a chance to get better," Bryant said. "Seeing those teams will only make us better."

And there's another area where she has gotten better. Her coach said Bryant's leadership has grown exponentially.

"She has been more vocal as a senior," Dodge said. "She's taken it on herself to run drills and continue leading by example. She's not a rah-rah person. She just has so much more confidence in her abilities."

Contact the writer: 402-618-4113, steven.beideck@aol.com twitter.com/stevebeideck

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