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She’s back — and better than ever

Albany State slugger Domonique Bryant, a former Westover star, swings at a pitch during Tuesday’s 2013 season opener for the Lady Rams, who won easily in a sweep of Thomas University’s JV squad. Bryant, who last season with an ACL injury, enjoyed a great return with a big day at the plate and in the outfield. (john.millikan@albanyherald.com)

Albany State slugger Domonique Bryant, a former Westover star, swings at a pitch during Tuesday’s 2013 season opener for the Lady Rams, who won easily in a sweep of Thomas University’s JV squad. Bryant, who last season with an ACL injury, enjoyed a great return with a big day at the plate and in the outfield. (john.millikan@albanyherald.com)

ALBANY — All it took was one swing of the bat.

One swing to bring everything back for former Westover star Domonique Bryant, who spent the last year and a half picking up equipment and learning how to keep the stat book.

On Tuesday, the Albany State senior got back to stuffing the stat book.

Bryant hit a three-run double in the bottom of the fifth inning in Albany State’s season opener against Thomas University’s junior varsity team to lift the Lady Rams to a 4-3 victory and then made some key catches in center field in the second game of the doubleheader to help ASU win again, 6-3.

It was the first game back in over a year for Bryant, who tore her ACL midway through her sophomore season but came back with a vengeance Tuesday, hitting what later proved to be the game-winner in her third at-bat.

Bryant’s first at-bat wasn’t nearly as smooth.

“I was so nervous. I can’t even explain the type of nerves I had,” said Bryant, who struck out in the first inning and then drew a walk in the third inning. “My teammates kept encouraging me and telling me not to worry about it and that they had my back.”

The stand-up double to left-center field changed everything.

“Once I got around the bases and saw my teammates’ faces, that’s when I calmed down,” Bryant said.

The 2009 Westover grad was one of four Lady Rams to record extra-base hits in the sweep, which gave ASU coach Robert Skinner one of the best starts to a season since he began the program 11 years ago.

“I don’t know if we have ever started off a season with two wins,” said Skinner, who is also the head coach of the ASU volleyball and women’s basketball teams. “I don’t ever start off 2-0 in anything. We play such a competitive schedule in all the sports at the beginning of the season. In softball, basketball or volleyball, it really is a rarity to start off 2-0.”

All four of ASU’s pitchers made appearances, starting with freshman Ambrionna Atkism, who started Game 1 and threw four innings without allowing an earned run. Alexa Lopez threw the final three innings of the opener, allowing just three hits and one run and picking up the first win of her career at ASU.

Chelsea Hicks, last year’s ace, started the second game and got the win after throwing four innings and allowing one run and four hits. Kandis Banks threw the final three innings of the day and gave up two runs and two hits — but Skinner said the star of the day was Hicks, who struck out five batters, walked three and was in command of each of her pitches.

“She had more of a variety of pitches,” Skinner said. “I saw the curve ball, changeup, fastball and the rise ball. She really mixed it up a lot.”

Thomas jumped ahead 2-0 in the opener after a pair of unearned runs in the second inning, but ASU closed to within a run after Chaconna Marks singled in Sierra Gaines in the bottom of the third.

The score stayed at 2-1 until the bottom of the fifth, when former Bainbridge star Vanessa Jones, Adrienne Morris and Gaines reached base and were all knocked in by Bryant.

“Domonique is a gamer,” Skinner said. “She comes ready to play every day. She anchors the outfield and is going to bring her best every game. If you get a sub-par game from Domonique, I would be surprised.”

Bryant started in center as a sophomore for the Lady Rams before tearing her ACL midway through the season. She played the remainder of the year with the injury but needed offseason surgery that kept her on the sidelines for her junior year.

“They made me learn how to keep the book, so I did that every game and helped with the equipment,” Bryant said. “The whole time I am sitting and just recording things, trying to keep my teammates up. I was feeling like a secretary, but it helped me grow as a person and as a teammate.”

Skinner said he saw the nerves in her eyes as she stepped up to the plate for her first two at-bats Tuesday.

“But after the double I saw the confidence come back,” Skinner said.

Thomas scored once in the top of the sixth but was shut down in the seventh by Lopez.

The Lady Rams never trailed in the second game after scoring four runs in the second inning and another in the third. After combining for just five hits in the opener, the Lady Rams tallied eight hits in the nightcap and got big games from Morris (1-for-1, 2B, 3 BB, 2 SB), Hicks (1-for-1, RBI, run), Atkism (2-for-2, 2 runs), Jones (1-for-2, 3B, 2 RBI) and Anria Peterson (1-for-2, 2B, 2 RBI).

The doubleheader kicked off an 18-game homestand for the Lady Rams, who are back in action today with two games against Georgia Southwestern and again on Friday with a pair against nationally-ranked No. 13 Rollins College.

“If we play like we did today and have our bats the whole game, then we should be fine (against the tough competition),” Hicks said.