Alyssa and Halley Jones are typical sisters off the softball field. But on it they are even more connected, holding down two of the most important positions for the Spring Lake Park softball team.
Alyssa, a senior captain, plays catcher for the Panthers, and Halley, her ninth-grade sister, is the team’s top pitcher. After Monday’s 1-0 victory over Totino-Grace, they had led Spring Lake Park to a 11-2 record and a 5-1 mark in the North Suburban Conference. The Panthers are looking to win their first conference title since 2010, after going 11-6 in 2013.
“As a team, I know we all want to be conference champs our last year in the North Suburban Conference,” Alyssa said, “so we’ve just been working hard to prove to everybody we can do it.”
The sisters come from a family with a long baseball and softball tradition. Their aunt and great aunt played softball for the Gophers. Their dad, Mike Jones, said he played instructional baseball in Florida and later for a Spring Lake Park amateur team.
Alyssa started playing baseball when she was 5, according to her father, and first played fastpitch softball when she was 7. Halley wasn’t far behind. She said she forced her dad into letting her play on Alyssa’s 10-and-under fastpitch team when she was 6.
The sisters played on different teams after Alyssa turned 11 but continued to practice together. They had a brief opportunity to play together last season, but Alyssa sustained a season-ending injury in the third game of the year.
After an active offseason, Alyssa is back behind the plate and Halley has established herself as the team’s top pitcher. Before Monday’s game, she was 10-2 through with 0.74 ERA and 97 strikeouts.
Halley, the taller of the two, said she throws seven pitches consistently, including a dropball, curveball and screwball. This past Friday, she puzzled Cooper’s hitters by mixing her pitches and working both sides of the plate and striking out nine in a 10-0 victory.
Halley is quieter than Alyssa but just as competitive, according to her mom, Karyn Jones.
“She wants to be in every play,” Karyn Jones said, “and I think that’s what, you know, drove her to wanting to be a pitcher.”
Alyssa also has a strong arm, after pitching early in her softball career. Against Cooper she threw out a baserunner to end the first inning and peppered her teammates with encouragement throughout the game.
“She’s always positive, and she’s always had this outgoing personality where she lifts people’s spirits,” Halley said. “She’s one of the funniest people on the field, and she can always make people relax out there.”
The sisters characterize their relationship as loving but difficult. While they want what’s best for the other, they acknowledge the occasional battle about the typical sister stuff.
Spring Lake Park coach Lori Lightbody described the sisters as “almost like bulldogs” because “they’re going to be aggressive, work hard and just fight at times.”
“I think they are enjoying getting to play together,” she said. “At times they get on each other’s nerves, which is normal, but at the end of the day, they’re going to be the biggest supporters for each other.”
Alyssa will play softball for Bethel University next year. Halley will help Spring Lake Park transition into the Northwest Suburban Conference, which includes softball powers Maple Grove and Elk River. But for now, the sisters just appear to be enjoying their remaining time playing together.
“They probably won’t realize it until a few years later, you know, but their dad and I obviously are trying to savor every moment,” Karyn Jones said. “Years from now, the memories of this are going to be pretty special for them.”
Nate Gotlieb is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune.