Jones caps stellar career with national title

Published 6:08 pm Friday, May 29, 2015

AUM pitcher Cassie Jones throws a pitch during Thursday’s national championship.--Photo by Kim Persinger

AUM pitcher Cassie Jones throws a pitch during Thursday’s national championship.–Photo by Kim Persinger

SIOUX CITY, Iowa — With the national championship on the line, Auburn Montgomery’s Cassie Jones proceeded to do what she did best throughout her entire career.

The Warhawks hurler and Dallas County High School alumna shutout Lindsey Wilson in a 10-0 win Thursday night to clinch back-to-back NAIA softball national titles for AUM. It was the 17th time she shutout an opposing team— one of the many school records she owns — and it was an overall vintage performance from Jones, who finished her career in style.

“It was definitely incredible,” Jones said of her team’s second national title in as many years. “It is hard to put into words the emotion of that moment.”

Email newsletter signup

The maids of honor in her wedding and her best friends Katie Spann and Lauren Shaw hit back-to-back home runs in the first inning to give her a cushion to work with.

From there, Jones finished off a stellar career with the type of performance she made a regularity. She gave up only five hits and struck out 10 to bring her season record to 35-5. Even with a 10-run lead in the final inning, she said she kept her focus on the task at hand.

“We say ‘one more’ a lot because it keeps you from looking past the moment,” Jones said. “That’s what I was trying to do. I was thinking ‘One more pitch. One more pitch.’”

When the final pitch did come, the national championship was won and Jones’ assault on the AUM and NAIA record books was put to a rest, the final totals were something to behold. The senior was named NAIA National Player of the Year Friday after a season that saw her lead the NAIA with a 0.90 ERA and 411 strikeouts, which is the seventh most in NAIA history.

She also had the nation’s lowest opponent batting average (0.109), hits allowed per game (2.57) and total wins (35).

She is one of only four pitchers in NAIA history to total over 1,000 strikeouts (1,077) and she threw five career no-hitters, which is a school record.

All in all, it wasn’t too shabby for a pitcher who rarely got to practice last season due to an arm injury, which required Tommy John Surgery in the offseason.

“It really made me appreciate this year,” Jones said of the surgery. “Last year, [the doctor] basically told me my pitches were numbered. He was like ‘Do not waste practice; do not waste anything. If you don’t have to throw, don’t throw,’ so that really made me appreciate every pitch I could throw this year … It put everything into perspective.”

After the surgery, she said her arm felt instantly better. Unlike last season, when she said her pinky and ring finger would go numb during games, she could actually practice this year without pain. She said that made a big difference in her performance on the mound.

“She has carried this team through thick and thin, through wins and losses,” said assistant volunteer coach Hunter Veach, who is a Morgan Academy graduate. “Everything in the world can be said about Cassie. She’s just a great player, great teammate and a great person.”

Jones was also named World Series Most Valuable Player for the second consecutive season after posting a 4-1 record in the national tournament and a 0.90 ERA. She struck out 52 batters in 31 innings in the tournament.

Those numbers capped off a season that saw records fall that may never again be topped in AUM history.

“My momma would always tell me there were always people better than me but that didn’t mean they had to outwork me,” Jones said. “I think that was always the driving [force].”

AUM entered Thursday needing just one win to become the first team to win back-to-back national championships since Oklahoma City won three straight from 2000-2002, but Lindsey Wilson came to play as well.

The Blue Raiders won the opening game 3-0, forcing a winner-take-all championship game. Jones said the Warhawks regrouped and in game two AUM left no doubt who the better team was.

“It still hasn’t even set in,” said freshman Amy Persinger, another Dallas County High School alumna. “Coming to AUM that was one of the main goals that I wanted to accomplish, being a part of a team that won the national championship and being part of a team that did it back-to-back — I couldn’t be a part of  a better team.”

While Persinger still has three years ahead of her and Veach is just at the beginning of what he hopes is a long career as a coach, Jones’ time as a player is over.

“I’m going to stay around softball and I’m going to keep giving lessons around Montgomery like I have,” Jones said with a sigh. “I’ll stay around the game but as sad as it is, it’s time to move on.”