Riley Jones loves the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
OK, obsessed is more like it.
The Bishop Kelly softball pitcher has seen all 22 movies front to back and knows everything about each character that’s ever made an appearance, no matter how small. Thor is her personal favorite.
The junior led her very own team this season. She went 12-1 with 155 strikeouts and a .716 ERA in 88 innings pitched in the circle. Jones also batted .359 with 28 hits, four home runs, 17 RBIs and had 19 stolen bases to earn All-4A Southern Idaho Conference first-team honors while guiding the Knights to the 11th state title in program history.
For these accomplishments, Jones is the 2018-19 Idaho Press’ Sports Stars Softball Athlete of the Year.
“She was the Iron Man of our team because she was a core part,” Bishop Kelly senior catcher Annie Davidson said. “She was reliable and a leader for sure.
“Whenever she came into the game, she gave everyone else confidence that we were guaranteed another win whenever she was playing.”
Jones joined the squad herself two years ago as a freshman. She was an All-4A SIC first-team selection and helped the Knights get to the playoffs for the fifth straight year.
But Jones was riddled with injuries the following year. She dislocated her right throwing shoulder twice over the summer before breaking her left ankle later that winter in basketball.
The injuries prevented her from pitching during the offseason. Jones then threw her shoulder out during the first game of the St. George Tournament in Utah.
She pulled every muscle while developing tendinitis in her bicep. Jones didn’t pitch again until there were about four weeks left in the season.
Jones returned in time for the district tournament, but not at 100 percent. Imagine Captain America without his shield.
She allowed 11 hits and seven earned runs in just three innings during the third-place winner-to-state game against Vallivue. The Knights lost 18-6.
“I just wasn’t prepared,” Jones said. “I hate feeling useless. I just couldn’t help but think if I was 100 percent, things would have been different.”
They were different this season.
She was finally healthy.
Jones outdueled Mountain View’s Oakleigh Kearby, the winning pitcher of the 5A state title game, in the season opener. Jones then beat Gabi Peters, a Stanford signee, a week later with a one-hitter.
She didn’t stop there.
She upstaged 4A SIC Player of the Year, Gracie Walters of Ridgevue, on April 15 with a one-hitter, and former Gatorade Idaho Softball Player of the Year, Lainey Lyle, a North Dakota State signee, eight days later.
Jones also threw a 13-strikeout no-hitter against Vallivue on April 30.
“I absolutely feel like Riley was underestimated and overlooked,” Bishop Kelly coach Missy Nichols said. “But she knew how hard she throws. She knew what her ERA has been and can be. She knew people were going off numbers that were the result of an injury year for her.
“I think she did what she needed to do to prove herself worthy. She knew that she had it within herself to have a great high school season. And it was just a matter of waiting for the right year.”
The only game where Jones didn’t look unstoppable like the Hulk, came during a district semifinal game against Middleton on May 6. But it really wasn’t her fault.
Jones re-injured her shoulder by dislocating it in the fifth inning. She tried to pop her arm back into place. It was to no avail.
So Jones continued to pitch. But she gave up two runs in the process before ultimately being pulled in the sixth.
Bishop Kelly lost 3-1 and fell to the same game it had come up short in a year earlier.
It was Jones’ only loss in the circle.
“I was upset and angry. All the seniors wanted to go to state and I wanted to get them there,” Jones said. “So I think a switch turned on in me. It was like, ‘We’re doing this. There isn’t another option. We’re winning this game. I don’t care what I have to do.’”
That’s exactly what happened.
She threw four strikeouts in relief and connected on a 3-run homer in a 10-0 win over Kuna in the third-place game. Jones followed that up by sitting down seven batters in a 6-1 victory over Blackfoot in the state play-in game at Twin Falls to get the Knights back to state.
Jones then had a finale reminiscent of “Avengers: Endgame.”
She started it off with an 11-strikeout no-hitter against Jerome.
That set up a date with Lyle and the Vikings, who had ruled the 4A landscape by winning the last three state championships, in the semis. It went extra innings.
Bishop Kelly was up 3-0 heading into the sixth inning. Jones struck out the first two batters she faced before giving up back-to-back hits. The lead had dwindled down to 3-2 with the tying run just 60 feet away.
But Jones caught Abigale Cotterell looking for strike three to snap Middleton’s run with a 3-2 win. Jones allowed no runs, three hits and struck out six in three innings while also bringing in what was the go-ahead run.
She capped it all off by recording the final out with a strikeout in a 1-0 win over Idaho Falls for the eighth state championship in program history just hours later. The eight titles are the most in classification history.
Jones’ pitching stat line for state was zero earned runs, five hits, three walks and 19 strikeouts over 11 innings.
“I don’t cry at all. I don’t show emotions, but the second Annie hit me, I started balling,” Jones said. “None of this would have happened without my team. There’s no way I would have gotten a lot of those strikeouts. There’s no way I would have zero earned runs without my defense. I have to give them a shout out. They literally helped me so much throughout the season to pitch the way that I did.”
The Fairleigh Dickinson commit will be back next year.
She has “Spider-Man: Far From Home” in July to see first, though.
“I mean while Marvel has superheros and Thor, softball still beats them in real life connections and friendships, and it doesn’t have an evil ultra powerful alien wanting to destroy everything,” Jones said while laughing.