Prep baseball

Portage's Jones has the 'It' factor

2014-04-03T17:30:00Z 2014-04-10T18:17:14Z Portage's Jones has the 'It' factorJim Peters james.peters@nwi.com, (219) 548-4363 nwitimes.com

Not many players possess it, that unique presence, an 'it' factor that elevates those around him.

Kevin Jones does.

He showed it in last year's LaPorte Sectional, when his two wins and a save led Portage to its first title in 18 years.

"He's a kid who's very confident in his abilities and when he's out there, the team feeds off it," Indians coach Tim Pirowski said. "We can be scuffling along, but when he's out there, it doesn't matter, it can be Crown Point, the No. 2 team in the state, and we think we can beat anyone."

Jones feels it, too, and he thrives on it.

"They seem to take it more seriously," he said. "They look to me. It gives me more confidence. It makes me feel l have back-up. I don't have to worry if somebody comes up and hits the ball, we're going to make the play. When there's somebody on the mound throwing good, they know we're going to get outs and they feel we're in the game no matter what. They know we can pull through every time."

And here's the scary part. Jones is in an even better place than last spring, when he felt he had to prove his worthiness to his new teammates. A scholarship to Northern Illinois secured, he isn't burdened by the worries of an off day, impressing scouts or lighting up the radar guns.

"It feels a lot easier," Jones said. "I feel relaxed. The pressure's off my shoulders. I'm not trying to get looks. I'm just trying my hardest to get the W. I can just hang out with the guys and not worry anymore. It makes baseball more fun."

A busy summer of showcases saw Jones play in four major league venues -- U.S. Cellular Field, Busch Stadium, Target Field and Minute Maid Park, taking the mound on national TV at the latter.

Rather than feed Jones' ego, the experiences actually did just the opposite.

"It really humbled me," he said. "There's a way bigger picture. There are guys a lot better than me in the country. Brandon Murray right here in Hobart is probably going to be drafted in the top 10 rounds. I'm just a pitcher in Northwest Indiana, a dime a dozen. I understand I have to work a lot harder, get better, stronger. I always want to perform better than people expect. I want to be the best, to compete with the best."

To that end, Jones has added a few inches to his fastball, which consistently runs in the high 80s and touches the low 90s. His curve ball is 'major league,' Pirowski said, his changeup is markedly improved and Jones added a cutter to his arsenal. While his hitting is overshadowed, Jones can swing the bat, too. He'll bat in the middle of the order and is looking to hit at least .450.

"Win more games, go farther in the tournament," Jones said of goals. "Less walks. The first two innings, I get myself in trouble. I need to go out early and be on top. I feel better, stronger. My pitches are better. I learned a lot more. (The cutter) will keep hitters off balance."

With a young staff behind Jones, Pirowski hopes he can be a mentor to promising sophomore Jacob Dickson and the rest of the Indians. The swagger that is part of Jones' makeup, reminiscent of Portage grad and Michigan State junior Tony Cheky, must also be tempered at times.

"There's a reason why those guys are so successful," Pirowski said. "They have that edge, that feeling that no one is better. It's a good trait, but you have to know when to back off. We've had many discussions. We've pulled (Jones) to the side and said, 'Listen, this is how you're coming across.' To his credit, he's been very receptive, but he's still got a long ways to go. He needs to get it before he leaves here. We want him to be successful not just here but at the next level."

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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