Softball freshman off to unprecedented start

By Brent Meske, @brentmeskeDE

SIU softball’s pitching rotation had two freshmen join the group this season and one of them has rattled off three complete game shutouts through eight games.

Brianna Jones hadn’t allowed a run all season until the 92nd batter she faced doubled to center field, driving in the previous batter who singled up the middle.

Jones said she didn’t expect her career to start like this.

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“I didn’t expect [three] shutouts, but I didn’t think I’d be throwing away five runs a game [either],” she said. “People were hitting me during the fall [season], but once [coach] Kerri [Blaylock] started working with me, I got more movement on my pitches.”

MORE: Freshmen outfielders also off to hot start

In that time, she pitched 22.1 innings allowing 21 hits, four walks and two unearned runs while collecting 23 strikeouts. She was 3-1 with one save before facing Florida Gulf Coast on Saturday and is now 3-2 after the 6-5 loss to the Eagles.

Blaylock said she expected this kind of a start to the season when scouting Jones.

“I knew she could be good immediately,” she said. “As long as she hits her location and her spots, she’s very, very good.”

Blaylock said Jones, the hardest-thrower on the staff, is pitching faster than anyone she’s seen since Amy Harre. But that isn’t the only comparison to be drawn to the 2011 Saluki Hall of Fame inductee.

The four-year starter opened her career with two complete game shutouts, four saves and one complete game win with one unearned run allowed. She holds the all-time SIU career records for appearances, wins, complete games and shutouts.

Harre recorded 10 or more shutouts all four seasons — only two other pitchers have recorded double-digit shutouts in a season. With more than 35 games left on the schedule, 10 shutouts seems like a possibility for the Salukis’ current freshman.

She, Harre, Cassidy Scoggins and Nikki Waters are the only pitchers since 2002 to start her career with a shutout. Jones the only one to do so three times before allowing an earned run. Blaylock said Jones is already showing excellent demeanor and makeup, which she displayed during her save against Marshall last Friday.

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She entered the game with the Salukis leading 8-4 and runners at first and second. The first batter she faced doubled down the left field line, cutting the score to 8-6. Jones got the next three batters out to ensure the win for the Salukis, picking up her first collegiate save.

“She’s a big time competitor,” Blaylock said. “She want’s to be in there, she wants the ball.”

Competition started early for Jones, who said she started to play softball because her older brother played baseball and she wanted to follow in his footsteps. She continued with the sport, her brother didn’t.

At Coffee County High School— in Manchester, Tenn. — Jones was a three-time all-district pitcher while leading her team to two top-five finishes in state. She finished third in the nation in strikeouts with 372 in 2014 as a junior and had a 0.75 ERA.

Jones said she didn’t practice pitching much during high school because she pitched every game, but now she practices three or four times a week.

“I’m getting more accurate with my pitches,” she said. “If I miss my spot, it’s usually a strike but not exactly where Kerri wants it.”

Accuracy is the one part of the Tennessean’s game Blaylock wants to improve. She said if Jones can develop pinpoint accuracy, she’ll be unhittable.

Even without the precision pitching, Jones’ three shutouts are tied with Connecticut freshman Jill Stockley and Florida junior Delanie Gourley for the nation lead this season.

Jones has started her collegiate career the same way she has played her whole life; just go up and pitch. She said she doesn’t worry about the scouting report of hitters before or during the game and she makes her own adjustments as the game progresses.

Sophomore catcher Sydney Jones, who has caught 17 of Jones’ 24 innings this season, said it shows she trusts herself and the team trusts her pitching.

“At the beginning, Kerri asked if I wanted to know which hitters were good and which were slappers,” she said. “I told her it doesn’t matter to me, I’m just going to go out there and throw.”

Brent Meske can be reached at [email protected] or at 536-3333

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