Youth replacing experience behind the plate

By Brent Meske, @brentmeskeDE

After losing a three-year starter behind the plate, Saluki softball has turned to young talent to fill the gap.

Freshman catcher and infielder Sydney Jones came to SIU instead of Florida Gulf Coast University after attending Palm Beach Gardens High School in Florida.

“When I came on my visit, I felt at home here,” she said. “I had other offers but felt more at home here [15 hours driving] than two hours from home.”


Jones was an All-Conference honoree all four years of high school and was part of the team that won the 2011 Florida 8A state title, which reached the No. 1 ranking on ESPN in 2012. 

Through four games this season, Jones and sophomore catcher Jessa Thomas have split time calling pitches. Both have started two games. 

Coach Kerri Blaylock said that will likely continue until the conference schedule.

“It will depend on who our opponent is and what our needs are,” she said. “They have certain strengths, so it will depend on how the season plays out.”

Blaylock said Thomas is more vocal, but Jones is getting there. She said Thomas is more of a classic blocking catcher, while Jones is catching up after primarily playing third base in high school. 

Associate head coach Jen Sewell said Jones is able to smoothly pop out of the catcher position for a better throw because of her athleticism.

Sewell said Thomas has more of an easiness than Jones that pitchers love to throw to. She said both block pitches well and have the ability to throw base runners out.


Senior pitcher Katie Bertelsen said she does not have a preference as to which one starts.

“We will need both of them,” she said. “It’s really nice to have catchers that talk to you and communicate with you throughout the game.”

Jones brings versatility to the team, as she started at third base in the games Thomas caught. 

“You want players that can play multiple positions,” Blaylock said. “It helps being able to put people in different spots.”

Sewell said Thomas is practically a rookie at the plate, as she backed up former catcher Allie VadeBoncouer last season. VadeBoncouer led the team in on-base percentage last season and was hit by 71 pitches in her career—which is is No. 2 all-time in NCAA history. Thomas only played in nine games last season, going 0-for-5 with 3 strikeouts. 

Sewell said the pressure to fill in offensively will not be put on Jones and Thomas. She said as long as the two are hitting and getting out in productive ways with long at-bats and sacrifice flies, they are doing their job. 

“We aren’t going to stick them in the middle of the lineup and put that pressure on them,” she said. “They’re both quality, mechanical hitters.”

Thomas and Jones are No. 2 and No. 4 on the team in batting average at .400 and .273 respectively through four games.

Both players performed well in the first two games Friday at the Charleston Southern Tournament. 

Thomas was part of the fourth-inning rally that tied SIU’s first game of the year 3-3 against Ohio State. Her two-out double began a three-run inning. SIU lost the game 7-4 in the eighth inning. 

Jones also recorded a RBI in a 4-3 win against Maryland, Baltimore County.

The Salukis play in the Rafter Memorial Tournament at 11 a.m. Friday in Kennesaw, Ga.

Brent Meske can be reached at [email protected] or at 536-3311 ext. 269.