Bryant works to keep role as leader for Providence
Jessie Bryant, a senior captain and hard-hitting right fielder for the Providence College softball team, takes nothing for granted.
“She doesn’t assume the position is hers. She plays every day as if she’s competing for playing time,’’ Friars head coach Kerri Jacklets said of the former Marlborough High star, in her third season starting for Providence.
Through 22 games, Bryant was hitting .323 (20 for 62) with three doubles, a triple, and two homers. She scored 13 runs, knocked in 13 more, and had a .500 slugging percentage.
Bryant made the Marlborough High softball team as an eighth-grader. A shortstop for the Panthers, she showed her versatility by playing outfield for four summer seasons with the Polar Crush Gold girls’ elite club team.
“I was 14 years old, and at my first tryout with the Crush I was moved from shortstop to the outfield, and I remember tracking down the first ball hit to me,’’ said Bryant, a three-sport captain in high school and the Midland Wachusett League Division B’s softball MVP her senior year.
The stepdaughter of Marlborough High athletic director Jeff Rudzinsky , who coached her in Little League and Cal Ripken League and in softball at the high school, Bryant finished her high school career with a flourish, batting .538 as a senior.
Late in that 2009 season, when Marlborough visited eventual state champion Hudson High for the traditional baseball-softball doubleheader between the schools, Bryant hit a pair of two-run homers that sealed a 4-3 victory.
Bryant’s stepsister, Kelsey Rudzinsky, was on base for both at-bats, making the day more special.
“It was my favorite high school softball memory,’’ said Bryant, who the previous season batted at the top of the order with her older sister, Kelsie Bryant, and Rudzinsky en route to the first of consecutive league titles and trips to the playoffs for Marlborough.
“Having a baseball background helped Jessie get a great jump on her softball career,’’ said Jeff Rudzinsky. “Knowing how hard Jessie has worked at all levels and in every sport she played, I’m not surprised she’s had success in college.’’
It did not happen immediately.
“I went through some growing pains,’’ said Bryant, a righty thrower and hitter who batted .151 as a Providence freshman, then came back determined to prove herself. “I pretty much revamped my whole swing to make it more efficient.’’
Her summertime workout partner throughout her college years, Sacred Heart University varsity player Melissa Tobin, was once Bryant’s rival at Hudson High.
“We switch off from the batting cages at Marlborough to the field at Hudson, pitch to one another, and hit fly balls and grounders off the tee,’’ said Bryant, who rebounded in 2011 by hitting .336 with a team-high 11 homers, 39 RBIs, 24 walks, a .433 on-base percentage, and .610 slugging percentage.
Last season, with pitchers wary of her improved swing, Bryant nevertheless led the Friars with a .287 average and .417 on-base percentage. She was named to the Big East Conference’s weekly honor roll in March of last year.
“Pitchers get to know you, and so I try to work on what they think are my weaknesses, but I also have a competitive drive and I hate to lose,’’ said Bryant, who was awarded the college’s Mark Mandell and Yvette Boisclair Student-Athlete Scholarship last year.
Jacklets is thankful that Bryant chose Providence. “She’s the kind of player and person we wanted to grow with our program,’’ said Jacklets. “Jessie has a natural instinct for the game to go with a great swing, and she’s improved at this level because she’s coachable; she just puts her frustrations behind her and looks ahead.’’
The Friars’ roster includes two infielders out of Shrewsbury High, junior Kaitlyn Duval and freshman Danielle Deraney, daughter of Providence College women’s ice hockey coach Bob Deraney.
“Kaitlyn has been out with an injury and I hope we’ll see her back this season. She’s a gritty player whose work ethic is second to none, and she’s an amazing teammate even when she’s not able to play,’’ said Jacklets. “Danielle plays anywhere we ask her to contribute, has great eye-hand coordination, and is improving every day as we try to increase her at-bats.’’
High school all-stars play Saturday in Worcester
The American Hockey League’s Worcester Sharks and the Shriners fraternal organization will host high school all-star games Saturday at the DCU Center, with girls taking part in the event for the first time.
The games will feature the state’s top 92 high school senior boys and girls from MIAA member schools, as selected by the Massachusetts State Hockey Coaches Association.
The inaugural girls’ game begins at 1:45 p.m, and the fourth annual boys’ game is at 4 p.m.
Admission is $11 in advance and $16 at the door, with a portion of the proceeds to benefit the Shriners Hospital for Children in Boston. Tickets are also good for admission to the Sharks game against the St. John’s IceCaps at 7 p.m. Saturday.