Morningisde vs Briar Cliff softball

Morningside coach Jessica Jones-Sitzmann talks to Jordan Johnson at third base during GPAC game against Briar Cliff this season. The Mustangs enter the GPAC tournament looking for their fourth straight tournament title.

Jim Lee, Sioux City Journal

SIOUX CITY | Jessica Jones-Sitzmann has certainly made a name for herself.

As a youth and prep at Sioux City East she was “JJ’’ or “Jay (J)’’ to most.

After she finished her NCAA Division II All-America softball career at South Dakota State she acquired another nickname, one of honor and respect of course. It was “One Gun’’ and Morningside’s winningest coach in any sports grins a bit sheepishly now at the mention.

“After all those years pitching my right bicep was way bigger than my left and my teammates when I started playing slow-pitch always got a laugh out of that,’’ recalled JJ after her Morningside team swept Doane 2-1 and 8-0 Saturday to win the Great Plains Athletic Conference tournament title.

The wins merely solidified a possible high seed for Morningside in the first round of the 40-team NAIA national tournament, now referred to as the Opening Round.

The 44-8 Mustangs had already clinched a berth by winning the GPAC regular-season crown and will host a four-team quad in the Opening Round at Jensen Softball Complex on the Morningside campus.

Morningside will also host the 10-team NAIA World Series that begins in Our Town May 27.

Jones-Sitzmann, in her 18th season at the Morningside helm, surpassed 600 coaching wins on April 20 with a win over Doane.

“I really had no idea how many wins I had,’’ said the M’side coach. “Somebody else keeps track of that I guess. I’ve had some outstanding players.’’

As mentors and true believers over the years she quickly points out her parents, Jim and Sue, and former coaches Jeff Vanderloo (East) and Beth Kirchner Pruitt (South Dakota State).

“I take lot of inspiration from my parents,’’ said JJ. “My dad was my first coach back in youth softball and he and my mom have never ever missed a game if at all possible.

“Unfortunately, sadly, my dad suffered a stroke two years ago and he’s not able to come to our game, but my mom was here today.’’

Sue Jones undoubtedly provided Jim with a play-by-play account of the Saturday games when she got home.

“In high school, Jeff Vanderloo challenged you every day. That’s why we went to Central Iowa to play those good teams and get better,’’ said Jones-Sitzmann.

“I always looked up to Beth when she played at North and the University of Iowa and then when she recruited me and coached me at South Dakota State. She’s one of the best to ever play in Sioux City.’’

Vanderloo is now an assistant men’s basketball coach at Creighton and Kirchner Pruitt stepped down as head coach at the University of Kentucky a few years ago.

The Morningside coach now has 610 career coaching victories.

In high school at East she was the starting pitcher just one season, as a senior. She was in the shadow of all-stater Jamie Mahnke for several summers and settled for playing in the outfield and pitching mostly junior varsity.

Mahnke went on to an NCAA Division III All-America career at Central College in Pella.

Like Mahnke, Jones-Sitzmann was a first-team prep all-stater and was 32-7 as an East senior, striking out 225 batters in 224 innings.

She threw a no-hitter against North Scott in the opening game of the 1989 state prep tourney and East wound up seventh.

The 1993 SDSU grad left the college ranks second in school history with 42 wins and 411 strikeouts.

Like all sports there is no “gimme’’ in softball and Jones-Sitzmann continues to warn her players of the pitfalls in lack of complete focus.

The acknowledged power of NAIA softball, Oklahoma City University, proved the point during the weekend by losing to Texas Wesleyan in the Sooner Athletic Conference tournament title game.

No. 1 ranked Oklahoma City took a gaudy 58-1 record into that game and Texas Wesleyan, despite winning, was still under .500 with a 27-28 record after the stunning upset.

OKC, though, like Morningside, will host one of the 10 Opening Round tournaments in what amounts to a 40-team national tournament.

By expanding from 32 to 40 teams the NAIA post-season has changed the nomenclature by eliminating regional classification and adopting the Opening Round format.

Quad. The pairings will be announced Tuesday.

BTW

#Oklahoma City pitchers Abby Meador (23-1), Georgia Wall (17-0) and Leslie Miller (14-1) have been brilliant. Miller lost to St. Gregory’s (Texas) and Wall had a no-hitter and a 2-0 lead though six in the stunner to TWU, but was relieved in the seventh by Meador, who suffered the loss.

#Oklahoma City Coach Phil McSpadden is the winningest coach in collegiate women’s softball history (all levels) with almost 1,500 victories (at both the NAIA and NCAA levels), eight national titles and four 60-win seasons.

#McSpadden got his 600th win in 1999 against Emporia State.

#Doane (31-15) was the tourney runner-up, and since M’side swept both titles, the Tigers are into the Opening Round and could be shipped to Oklahoma City.

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