The ultimate weapon
On the field, Morgan Bryant moves without hesitation, but the same could not be said when Washington coach Doug Whitehead asked her to transition to the leadoff spot heading into her senior season.
In the past, Bryant had been accustomed to batting anywhere from fourth to seventh in the lineup. Hitting in the top spot would no doubt breed new responsibilities, but the senior shrugged off her doubt like a high and tight fastball, collected herself, dug in deep and focused on the new task at hand.
“I was nervous at the beginning. I wasn’t really sure if I could do it” Bryant confessed. “But it’s a fun batting spot. It was different, especially facing a new pitcher at the beginning of the game but after a while I felt comfortable there.”
Comfortable might be a bit of an understatement, as Bryant recovered from a brief adjustment period and made herself at home at the leadoff spot. The speedy, sweet-swinging senior proved to be every bit the offensive catalyst Whitehead was looking for as she batted .379 with three triples, two home runs and 18 RBIs while swiping a team-high 23 stolen bases.
While her offensive production went through the roof and set the tone for a Pam Pack team that finished with a 19-6 (10-4) record, her fleet feet enabled the centerfielder to provide the stellar defense she always been known for making her a true five-tool player as well as the Washington Daily News Position Player of the Year.
“She had an outstanding season. She was the leader that we asked her to be,” Whitehead said. “She was a great all-around player. She’s fast, she could hit in the gap, she could hit home runs and she was just about a perfect leadoff hitter.”
Whitehead headed into the year looking to replace longtime leadoff hitter Kristi Wood, and after scanning his roster, decided the versatile Bryant would be the perfect choice to fill the void.
“I always want my three best hitters getting up in the first inning,” Whitehead said. “I was looking for what we had before: speed. Morgan’s one of the fastest girls on the team. What she did in her first at-bat dictated a lot of what we did as team. To me, she was the perfect person to put in there.”
In softball, where the name of the game is to advance a runner by any means necessary, Bryant’s ability to swipe bases proved extraordinary valuable.
“We didn’t have to sacrifice to get her over,” Whitehead said. “By doing that you save yourself and out, or you can now use that sacrifice to get her to third.”
As a base stealer, Bryant was nearly flawless as she was ruled safe on 23 of her 25 attempts this year thanks to that speed and a veteran savvy that not only tested the defense, but the umpires as well.
“I liked to look at the umpire. Sometimes you can see that he’s not really watching you when you leave the base so you could leave a little bit earlier,” Bryant said. “I was only caught once leaving early last year so this year I was like ‘I’m going to try it again.” If you leave late you’re done. But if you can leave, not when (the pitcher’s) hands are in the air, but right when they are about here (Bryant lower’s her hands) …”
While Bryant turned into the ultimate weapon on offense, her impact on defense cannot be overlooked. The four-year starter on the varsity team could read the bat off the ball as easy as the rest of us read stop signs while her speed allowed her to put more flies to rest than a bug zapper.
“She always got such a great jump on the ball,” Whitehead said. “I can’t remember a time where she ever got burned. Coming in on the ball she stole several base hits.”
Bryant’s savvy didn’t just affect the middle of the outfield, it strengthen the rest of the Pam Pack defense.
“By having someone that can cover as much ground as she did you’re able to move your left and right fielders closer to the line,” Whitehead said. “That saves you from a lot of extra base hits.”
Though her Pam Pack career is over, her playing days are not as the graduated senior received a scholarship to play at Peace College next season where she continue to take her game to the next level.