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Latrobe graduate leads RMU to NEC title

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By Keith Barnes
Wednesday, May 25, 2011

After wallowing through a tough sophomore season in which she was hampered with arm and shoulder problems, Alexa Bryson wanted to prove she still could be a dominating pitcher.

"It was sort of hard at the end of the season because it was sort of a nagging injury. And I could really see the effects of it at the end of the year, and it was really frustrating," the Robert Morris star said. "To be at that point in the season and not performing the way I should have been was really hard for me."

But the Latrobe graduate came back strong, helping lead the Colonials to Northeast Conference regular-season title this season.

She finished 13-10 with a 2.73 ERA. A power pitcher, the junior right-hander struck out 170 in 15323 innings, second in the conference to Quinnipiac's Heather Schwartzburg.

She was most dominant in conference games. In the regular season, she was 9-2 with a 1.85 ERA and struck out 95 in 7923 innings against league foes. She was named second-team all-conference for the second time in three years.

The 2010 season was less pleasant. Bryson pitched through soreness throughout the year and had to go through a summer of rest and physical therapy -- something for which she wasn't accustomed.

"It was sort of annoying not to be able to do any overt activity and not pitch at all over the summer," Bryson said. "I still have to keep up with the shoulder rehab to make sure I haven't lost any of the strength that I've built up."

Injuries aside, her success at Robert Morris isn't all that surprising considering she pitched Latrobe to WPIAL Class AAAA titles in 2007 and '08 and was the Pennsylvania Gatorade Player of the Year in '08.

But making the transition from high school to college softball was somewhat difficult. In college, the rubber is 3 feet farther back, and the only time high school pitchers see that distance is in traveling leagues.

"I think she was awfully good in high school, but at the college level, because the level of hitters she faces at the collegiate level is so much better, she has learned to pitch smart and not take a batter off. And her pitches are even more precise than they were before," Robert Morris coach Craig Coleman said. "She's just continued to improve in every way."

What helped Bryson this season was the addition of a solid No. 2 starter in Mt. Lebanon graduate Geena Badolato, who pitched a perfect game in the 2010 PIAA Class AAAA championship game. Badolato was 10-12 in her first year in college and has become a solid left-handed complement for Bryson.

"Geena is very good as well, and it's good to have a righty and lefty. And Geena is a little bit different in that she relies on change of speed," Coleman said. "Alexa, to be honest, had some arm and shoulder issues (in 2010). And Geena ate up a lot of innings this season (13923), and that helped Lex and kept her fresh at the end of the season. Geena was able to keep Lex so that we could use her when we wanted to, not when we had to."

Bryson will be getting even more help next season. Yough senior lefty Nicole Sleith, who led the state with 362 strikeouts as a junior and already has thrown three no-hitters this year, will join the Colonials' pitching staff.

"Being the only righty on the staff will be weird. But I'm looking forward to working with both of them because they're both great pitchers, and we'll complement each other really well," Bryson said. "They're both so talented, and they're both so young, and they still have so much ahead of them. It's going to be fun to pitch with both of them and see how much it can improve all of us."

About the only issue Robert Morris may have is finding enough innings for the three stars.

"It will be a tremendously nice problem to have," Coleman said. "I'm not sure how we'll do it, but obviously, one is a freshman, even though she's really good. But what a blessing to have three pitchers of that caliber."

Still, Coleman also expects Bryson to have her best year as a senior. And that can only help as the Colonials try to win the NEC Tournament and earn a bid to the NCAAs.

"She will just get better because, physically, she's moving into her prime as an athlete," Coleman said. "She understands her craft, she's very smart, she's good at what she does and she's only going to get better."



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