Super-State softball: Older sister spurs Armstrong's love for the game

2011-10-29T23:00:00Z 2011-11-01T23:30:10Z Super-State softball: Older sister spurs Armstrong's love for the gameBy LORI GRIFFIN / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com
October 29, 2011 11:00 pm  • 

The photo, taken at a softball game, says it all.

A 5-year-old blonde in pink shorts and shirtless, a yellow plastic bat in hand. In her own mind, she was out on that field, smacking the bigger ball.

The youngster's stance, with just the right bend in her legs and her hands placed properly, could have been considered perfect, especially for one so young. Her eyes were focused, ready to smack whatever was coming her way.

The girl was Alicia Armstrong. The Nebraska recruit began playing softball at age 5, starting her competitive career at the 10-and-under level.

Today, Armstrong is still smacking balls and playing errorless ball. For her play this fall, the Beatrice senior is honored as the Lincoln Journal Star Super-State honorary captain.

Armstrong is one of a long line of Lady Orange softball players who have gone on to play college ball. Those girls, most of them long done with their careers, were who Armstrong wanted to emulate. She grew up with former Nebraska pitcher Ashley DeBuhr, former Creighton pitcher Tara Oltman, and her sister Adria, who decided that college softball wasn't quite in her plans, despite being recruited by NCAA Division II powerhouse Nebraska-Kearney.

"Just going to (Adria's) games and seeing her play got me interested in the game. I always wanted to hang out with all of those girls, but Adria didn't want me to," Armstrong said.

"So I'd hide under her bed so I could be with them. They didn't mind, but my sister did."

Armstrong took it all in and eventually became a starter as a freshman for Beatrice.

"I told the other coaches I was going to start her as a freshman and the other coaches said maybe I should think about that, but I went ahead and said I was going to do it and I did," Beatrice coach Dennis Dodge said.

In her first three high school games, Armstrong was 9-of-10 with two doubles, a triple and a home run. She was named to the Super-State first team as a utility player. Her sophomore season was marred by an injury, but she still hit .380. Armstrong was honored as an infielder her junior season, finishing with a .556 average and nine home runs.

Armstrong excelled this season, breaking or tying six state records in Class B as well as two all-class records. She batted .690, at one point putting together 17 straight hits. She finished with a .514 career average, another state record.

Armstrong tied state records for home runs in a game (2), career home runs (20) and hits in a game (5). She also broke the Class B record for career runs (153).

"She is the best hitter and overall defender that we've had," Dodge said. "From the first time she started at shortstop as a freshman, Alicia played with confidence and maturity beyond her age."

"In one of her first games, she got the only hit against (Creighton and former Lincoln Southwest pitcher) Becca Changstrom and scored on a squeeze bunt to help defeat soon-to-be state champ Southwest 1-0. A couple games later, she hit a leadoff home run to provide all the offense to defeat (Omaha) Skutt 1-0, and she only got better every year."

Armstrong also had 31 doubles and seven triples in her career.

"Something that doesn't show up in the stats are some of the unbelievable defensive plays, running or diving catches, multiple double plays and throws from deep in the hole," Dodge said.

Armstrong always has been a competitor. She also plays basketball and soccer for Beatrice, and will give track a try this spring. She expects to be a sprinter as she prepares for her NU softball career.

"I always thought I was going to play basketball (in college) when I was younger because that is what I liked the best," Armstrong said. "But I was having such fun going to softball games, I decided that was what I wanted to do."

And she always hoped to be a Husker. Both of Armstrong's parents are NU graduates, as are her brother and sister. She also has an uncle who played football for NU in 1971.

Armstrong was looked at as a potential Husker soccer recruit when John Walker was watching then-Omaha Skutt player and current Husker Mayme Conroy. Walker saw potential in Armstrong after she stopped 37 shots, giving up one goal.

Armstrong also is involved in activities outside of sports. She has been the class president all four years and is in the National Honor Society, as well as other clubs. She has a 26½-inch vertical jump and has been timed in 4.97 seconds in the 40-yard dash.

"I've coached for 30 years and she's the fastest we've ever had," Dodge said. "She's also the best pure hitter we've had. Her percentages are mind-boggling.

"She leads by example and is very competitive. She keeps encouraging the team and the rest just follow along."

Reach Lori Griffin at 402-473-7174 or lgriffin@journalstar.com.

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