Kaitlyn Jones first Belton Softball alumnus to play on national champion, as TC wins NJCAA crown

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The Temple College Lady Leopards Softball team completed a magical season, as they defeated Chipola (FL) Junior College 6-1 in a winner-take-all game at the National Junior College Athletic Association World Series on Sunday in St. George, Utah.
TC went 47-8 overall, was 28-4 in the North Texas Junior College Athletic Conference play and won the NJCAA Region V Championship.
Several local players were part of the national champions. Belton’s Kaitlyn Jones, Academy’s Kennedy Jimenez and Lenzi Stewart were three local players. Jones is on Belton’s Wall of Honor as a 2017 inductee. Jimenez and Stewart won the Class 3A State Championship in 2017 with the Little River-Academy Lady Bees.
“The conference tournament alone was a challenge,” Jones said. “We worked hard to get there and win two games against McLennan Community College. Once we got past MCC, we could breathe for the bit and relax. We knew if we just played our game, we believed no one could beat us.”
With a 22-hour bus ride from Temple to Utah, the team had plenty of time to focus and think.
“I had nervous thoughts run though my mind, but once I got there, I felt that we could do it,” Jones said. “As soon as we played our first game, we knew that we would play good. We’re such a close-knit, bonded team.”
Fighting through a knee injury sustained in a practice before the series, the Baylor-commit Jones played a key role in TC’s efforts during the Utah trip. She rounded out the year hitting .268 (37-for-138), with 22 runs batted in and 34 runs scored. She had an on-base percentage of .387 was 9-for-10 in stolen base attempts.
At third base, Jones was 133-for-146 (.911 fielding percentage) at the hot corner.
Playing through injuries is not a strange thing for Jones. But to play on an injured knee at third base was very difficult.
“It was extremely difficult, but I knew that I had to get the job done,” Jones said. “We had it taped up and I did everything to make sure that I was ready for the game. I had to take the pain and run with it.”
Belton Softball head coach Matt Blackburn always stressed having fun and working hard.
“Kaitlyn is the type of player that will make everyone on your team better,” Blackburn said. “She pushes to get the best out of herself and that brings out the best in the rest. She’s a bulldog. I couldn’t be happier for her and the rest of her teammates. What an accomplishment!”
Her most productive game of the NJCAA World Series came last Thursday against Tyler Junior College. She had two hits, including a double, three runs batted in and a run scored in a 10-4 win.
She had four runs batted in, three hits and three walks during the six-game set.
“Everybody kept saying kept telling each other to not give up,” Jones said. “They scored first and almost ahead the whole time. Until we got that big lead, we just saying to ourselves to never give up.”
TC got to the finals and awaited their opponent, which ended up being the Chipola Lady Indians. Chipola stymied Temple in the first game, 2-0, to force a winner-take-all final.
“We put the pressure on ourselves,” Jones said. “We were just hitting right at people. The bats weren’t working for us that first game. We were very tense and not relaxed. We had a team meeting in right field before the game.”
The Lady Leopards posted five runs in the fifth inning of the second game, as Jones scored on Daisy Gonzalez’s single. Jones singled in the seventh to bring home Skye Koehl.
“The final pitch was such a relief,” Jones said. “We were on top of the world. It was an amazing feeling. It calmed our nerves.”
St. George, Utah held such an amazing backdrop for the tournament. The red sandstone cliffs of Snow Canyon State Park provided breathtaking sunsets and picture-perfect moments that encapsulated the Lady Leopards’ season.
“When you looked past the outfield wall and saw the sunsets, it was absolutely beautiful,” Jones said. “With sun setting below the mountains and rocks, it was so beautiful.”
Jones is the first alumnus of Belton Lady Tigers Softball to win a national championship at any level. She also played basketball for the Lady Tigers Basketball program.
“Coach (Brenda) Gomez always taught me that hard work pays off,” Jones said. “We struggled our first three years of in basketball, but we were able to make the playoffs in 2016.”
“Kaitlyn is a fearless competitor,” Gomez said. “She truly defines ‘dynamite comes in small packages.’ Kaitlyn was a beast when it came to work ethic because she was always willing to find a new challenge. I appreciate the fact that she played basketball because she loved the game and she took the opportunity to contribute to her teammates success. I am very happy for her success and proud of who she is and what she will become. She is a prime example of what athletes can accomplish with hard work and dedication. Those characteristics enable her to play multiple sports and still reach the highest level.”
Jones is one of the most tenacious competitors to go through the Belton athletic program. The fact that she was 5-feet tall made her the shortest player on the Lady Tigers and the Lady Leopards, playing a position that is normally geared towards a taller player. But make no mistake about it: Jones can flat out play.
“Never listen to people that tell you that you can’t play a position because you’re too short,” Jones said. “That is never true. If you go out and work at it, you can accomplish anything.”
Jones joins Baylor Acrobatics and Tumbling member and national champion Courtney Pate as the only two Belton female athletes as national champions in their respective sport. Acrobatics and Tumbling falls under the National Collegiate Acrobatics and Tumbling Assocation (NCATA). Pate is the Acrobatics and Tumbling head coach at West Virginia Wesleyan.
Jones will team up with fellow Baylor commit and Lady Tiger great Sidney Holman on the 2019 Lady Bears Softball team.
“I’m so excited for Sid and I to team up against, this time at Baylor,” Jones said. “I’m ready for the ride.”