The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

May 13, 2014

Ex-Pacer Jones, Kansas earn NCAA softball bid

Bruce Campbell, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

LAWRENCE, Kan. — Former Enid High softball All-American Alex Jones is living a dream this week.

Not only did her Kansas Jayhawks received a bid to the NCAA tournament, the school’s first since 2006, but she’s been cleared to pinch run and pitch after breaking her finger against Texas Tech four weeks ago.

“Ever since I stepped on the campus five years ago, my goal was to get to the regionals,” Jones said. “To get it my last year is amazing.’’

She had to have thumb surgery after being hit by a pitch in the Texas Tech series.

“I was mentally prepared for my days as a Kansas Jayhawk player to be over,’’ she said. “I was prepared for the worst, but we were hoping for the best.”

KU coaches and players watched the selection show on ESPNU Sunday night and erupted when it was announced the Jayhawks (33-21) would play in the Columbia, Mo., Regional against former conference rival Nebraska at 12:30 p.m. Friday. Missouri and Bradley complete the field.

“Even if I couldn’t play, I would have been smiling from ear to ear, because we made it,’’ Jones said. “To get to pinch run and pitch is just icing on the cake. It was hard preparing for that last game (Senior Day against Iowa State). I’m just glad it’s not over yet.’’

Jones batted .293 with 11 RBI and a team-high 10 stolen bases. As a pitcher, she was 1-0 with a 2.50 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 14 innings.

“I’m pumped up and ready to go,’’ Jones said. “I’ll do whatever the coaches want.”

KU has relied heavily on aces Kelsey Kessler (18-14, 2.33 ERA) and Alicia Pille (10-6, 2.55 ERA).

Jones, who broke the finger on her glove hand, hasn’t been cleared to hit, but will have the necessary equipment to run or pitch. The former Pacer is accustomed to coming back from injuries. She tore her ACL before her junior season in 2012, returning to hit a career-best .324 and scored 43 runs. She led the team in both stolen bases (11) and ERA (1.93) and had seven wins on the mound.

The knee injury turned out to be a blessing.

“I tell everyone that I’m living proof that an ACL tear has at least one benefit,’’ she said. “That perk for me is getting to the postseason as a Jayhawk.’’

While KU struggled for much of her career as a team, Jones never thought of transferring.

“Lawrence has become my home,’’ Jones said. “I have so much pride in being a Jayhawk. It’s paying dividends. Making the postseason is a sign we’re headed in the right direction.’’

Jones had hit .293 with 15 stolen bases as a sophomore and was the team’s “Rookie of the Year’’ as a freshman after leading KU in runs scored (29), stolen bases (12) and hits (55).

Jones, who received her degree in sports management, is undecided whether to go to medical school or to study to be a physical therapist or a physician’s assistant.

“I’m going to take some time off,” Jones said. “I’m still trying to decide what I want to do. The last five years have been stressful, but exciting. I just want some time to myself and to do some things before I start.’’

She hopes one of those would be to win the Columbia Regional to advance to first the Super Regional and then the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City.

“I want to keep playing,’’ Jones said. “It would be wonderful if we got that far.’’

Jones was a first-team All-Academic selection three times at KU. She won the Big-Jay Award in both 2012 and 2013 and was honored with the Marlene Mawson Exemplary Student Athlete Award this winter.

The Mawson Award is presented to one female KU athlete “that played an integral role on her team and demonstrates strong character and leadership qualities while being a strong competitor and an excellent student.

Jones led EHS to its only state tournament appearance in 2006 as a freshman.