Hopes high for JimmiesWhat’s one of the perks of playing softball in and around the frozen tundra that is North Dakota? Well, if one’s a member of the Jamestown College Jimmies it would have to be packing a few bags and hopping a flight to sun-drenched Arizona for a week in March.
By: By Michael Savaloja, The Jamestown Sun, The Jamestown Sun
What’s one of the perks of playing softball in and around the frozen tundra that is North Dakota?
Well, if one’s a member of the Jamestown College Jimmies it would have to be packing a few bags and hopping a flight to sun-drenched Arizona for a week in March.
This year’s flight departs on Sunday, as the Jimmies kick off their 2013 campaign with an even dozen contests at the annual Tucson Invitational Games.
The invitational gets underway for the Jimmies at 1:30 p.m. on Monday against Mount Marty College, and will wrap up with a doubleheader vs. Cal State San Marcos on March 17.
Jamestown College enjoyed plenty of success one year ago, producing the program’s first conference championship since 1992 and finishing with an overall record of 28-23. The season came to a close with a pair of losses at the A.I.I. Tournament in Columbus, Georgia last May, which is where Jimmies head coach Kevin Gall said he would like to see his club return.
“We’re hoping to hit the ground running (in Tucson). A lot of the teams that are on our schedule right now are already entering their 15th or 20th game,” said Gall, who is entering his 13th season at the helm. “We’ll probably have a lack of speed, so hopefully we can make up for that with our bats.”
As far as cleanup hitters go, Jamestown College has got that covered. Senior first baseman Kate Johnson was a nightmare for opposing teams in 2012, and the Jimmies will be looking for her to continue terrorizing pitchers after her record-setting junior year.
The Victoria, B.C. native is the only returner to have played in all of Jamestown College’s 51 games last year, earning A.I.I all-conference first team honors and being named the DAC’s player of the year with a conference gold glove.
Johnson led the team in home runs (10), doubles (18), RBIs (59), total bases (107), slugging percentage (.686) and walks (21), while batting .378 in 156 at-bats with just 15 strikeouts. She set a school record 22-game hitting streak, while also breaking the school record in RBIs in a game with eight, last season.
During her hitting streak, from March 28 to April 22, Johnson batted .551 with 8 homers, 9 doubles and 40 RBIs.
Johnson is one of nine seniors returning to the field, which includes catchers Janelle Spear and Kristi Michaud, infielders Rachel Ivelia and Celene Eccles, outfielders Kelsie DeBroeck, Allison Roper and Sarah Heinemann, and A.I.I all-conference second team pitcher DJ Johnson.
Roper and DeBroeck each batted over .300, while Ivelia (.272) hit five homers and drove in 31 runs. Michaud will be looking to turn things around, after batting just .190 in 63 plate appearances.
Ivelia (shortstop) and Roper each picked up conference gold gloves last year. The Jimmies would have had a 10th senior returning to the field this year, but Jenni Pehler, of Billings, Mont., separated a shoulder during a scrimmage game in the fall and will be student coaching for the Jimmies.
“Kristi did not have a very good year last year, and I’m hoping she steps up and produces like she’s capable of,” Gall said. “Janelle Spear (.207, 3 HR, 15 RBIs) has shortened her swing up and is hitting the ball hard, and Kelsie and Rachel Ivelia have also changed their swing some.
“I think we’ve got lots of good players, and we’ll have some depth. But it all comes down to pitching.”
The Jimmies’ ace in the circle this year will obviously be DJ Johnson. The Missoula, Mont. native also earned a conference gold glove and was named the DAC’s pitcher of the year in 2012, after starting 15 games and earning a record of 13-4. Johnson pitched seven complete games and notched 95 strikeouts with an ERA of 3.58 in 119.1 innings.
Johnson will be complemented this season by junior pitcher Emily Snow and sophomore hurler Mandy Thiessen.
“In some ways we don’t want to reinvent the wheel, but we also need to understand that people have seen (DJ Johnson) once already and we’ll need to have a little bit of an answer for them when it comes to how we are going to attack them,” Gall said. “People know she comes hard and throws hard, and that’s what they all gear up for. What’s going to be the card that we play in that is what it’s going to come down to.”
The Jimmies will begin to figure that all out this week in Arizona.
“With nine seniors you have to have some optimism that you’re going to have another good year, and that’s what we’re hoping for,” Gall said. “Another good year and maybe we can put some magic together at the end so we can get back to Columbus, Georgia.”
Sun sports writer Michael Savaloja can be reached at (701) 952-8461 or by email at email@example.com