E.A. Sports Today

Living the dream

PV’s Jones has become Lady Raiders’ ‘rock in the circle’ through ‘sheer will and determination,’ has allowed only 2 earned runs in postseason

Pleasant Valley’s Olivia Jones has become a front-line pitcher by throwing strikes and trusting her defense to make plays behind her. (Photos by B.J. Franklin/GungHo Photos)

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

JACKSONVILLE — Olivia Jones is just living the dream.

As recently as a year ago the Pleasant Valley junior never would have thought she’d be in the position she finds herself in today — the starting pitcher on a team vying for a state softball championship.

But in a story that her coaches describe as “a testament to hard work and desire,” Jones has developed into the singular piece the Lady Raiders have needed to clear the hurdle that has been the regional tournament.

Last week in Tuscaloosa she gave up two earned runs in 29 innings and has allowed only six runs in seven post-season starts. Her ability to throw strikes is a big reason the Lady Raiders are in Montgomery this week for their first state tournament appearance in 12 years.

Not bad for a pitcher who at first blush was headed for the JV team when she arrived from Jacksonville Christian in the fall.

“I came here and really wasn’t expecting anything,” Jones said. “I was hoping just to be on the team.

“This has always been my dream. The team I was playing for played Pleasant Valley in a tournament and I was like ‘I want to be on that team.’ We lived in the Pleasant Valley school district and this past summer we made the transfer. I was just hoping I would make the team and worked really hard to get where I am now. It’s a dream come true.”

That dream is becoming opposing teams’ nightmares. Last week at the Class 3A North Central Regional, she allowed only two earned runs in 29 innings and was unflappable in an intense seventh inning of the losers bracket final after the Lady Raiders took the lead to send them to Montgomery.

They will play South Central champion Gordo in their first fast-pitch state tournament game since 2005 Wednesday at Lagoon Park.

If Jones is living the dream, the dream weaver is Pleasant Valley pitching coach Colton Morris, and Jones readily acknowledges his influence on her development.

Morris was still involved with the PV girls basketball team when softball practice started, so he hadn’t known Jones had joined the team. Head coach David Bryant was inclined to start the new pitcher on the JV to get her some needed seasoning, but Morris saw something that could be a difference maker and when Jones showed a willingness to work it was a no-brainer.

Even up to the time the Lady Raiders left for the regional Jones would stay after practice twice a week and run through another entire pitching session of 75 to 80 pitches, she said, “just trying to do better than I did yesterday.”

“It didn’t take me long to figure her out,” Morris said. “She was a competitor. She took everything I said and ran with it. Once I got to know her and her attitude and how she’s willing to work I knew we had to have her, that she’d be something.

“She’s one of those kids you meet once in a lifetime who’s going to go out there and put it on the line and not question what you call. Usually with kids they’ll believe you for so long and soon as it goes bad they doubt you. Even times when she struggled she kept pushing on. It wound up being lot better than I thought.”

Consistent pitching is the one element that kept the Lady Raiders from being all they could be. They had gotten to the game that would send them to the state tournament seven of the previous 10 years but could never take the final step.

The Lady Raiders took the lead in this year’s consolation bracket final in the top of the seventh, then Jones sealed the deal with three infield pop-ups. She became their No. 1 right before they left for the spring break tournament in Gulf Shores this year and in 36 starts is 20-10 with an ERA under 3.00.

“She has turned herself into a very good pitcher by sheer will and determination,” Bryant said. “In the fall I thought she was going to be a JV pitcher and now she’s basically our rock in the circle.

“It’s been a long time since we had a pitcher who consistently throws strikes and doesn’t put our defense in situations where we have to get out of situations because of walks. She pounds the strike zone and keeps us in ballgames by throwing strikes.”

Jones has been absolutely brilliant in the postseason. She didn’t allow a run in the area tournament, winning MVP honors, and this past weekend she gave up four runs in five games, pitching all but the final two innings of their elimination game win over Piedmont.

The Lady Raiders beat Weaver (10-0), lost to J.B. Pennington (3-0), then beat Carbon Hill (5-1), Piedmont (11-0) and Pennington (3-2).

“Seeing those numbers, that was just crazy to me,” Jones said. “I never thought I could have done that and pitched as much as I pitched. I don’t know how I did that.”

It’s simple, really. She’s not a power pitcher, but she throws strikes and puts her faith in her defense to make plays behind her. She only has 41 strikeouts this season, but she’s issued only 30 walks to 711 batters in 158 innings.

“It’s a dream come true,” she said. “I would have never believed I could have done it. It’s crazy even to still think about. I don’t know how put into words. It’s crazy to think how I came from what I came from and pushed and pushed and pushed to get to where I am now. It’s mindblowing.”

And it’s not over.


First round
Slocumb vs. Plainview, 10:30 a.m.
Locust Fork vs. American Christian, 10:30 a.m.
Pisgah vs. Wicksburg, 10:30 a.m.
Gordo vs. Pleasant Valley, 10:30 a.m.
Second round
Winners play at 3 p.m.
Losers play at 6 p.m.

First round

Alabama Christian vs. Wilson, 10:30 a.m.
Cordova vs. Northside, 10:30 a.m.
Westminster Christian vs. Satsuma, noon
Bibb County vs. White Plains, noon
Winners bracket
Alabama Christian-Wilson winner vs. Cordova-Northside winner, 3 p.m.
Westminster Christian-Satsuma winner vs. Bibb County-White Plains winner, 4:30 p.m.
Losers bracket
Alabama Christian-Wilson loser vs. Cordova-Northside loser, 1:30 p.m.
Westminster Christian-Satsuma loser vs. Bibb County-White Plains loser, 4:30 p.m.
Losers bracket continues at 6 and 7:30 p.m.

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