Amidst the celebratory hugs, shouts and tears after the Class 4A softball state championship win, Portage pitcher Kiley Jones received a heartfelt phone call from her aunt.
"She told me how proud she was of me," Kiley said of the conversation with Kassey (Reynolds) Jones. "Her and I are very close."
The obvious connection is softball. Kiley Jones, the Times Softball Player of the Year, allowed only one home run all season in the circle, and surrendered just two runs from the regional through the state championship. Kassey (Reynolds) Jones is a 1992 Portage grad and two-time all-state pitcher who also played at IU. She was inducted into the Indiana Softball Hall of Fame in 1999.
But softball isn't the connection that binds the two.
"I can go to her with anything," Kiley said. "I know she is a Hall of Famer, but a lot of the time, we don't talk about softball. She's a part of the family.
"If I pick up the phone, no matter what, she'll be there for me."
Kiley's family lived in Kansas City for eight years, so interaction with Kassey was solely at family gatherings. Kiley returned to Portage two years ago. That's when Kassey worked on softball mechanics with her niece, so the face-to-face instruction time has been minimal lately.
That doesn't stop the aunt from keeping tabs on her relative with regular phone calls to Scott Jones, Kassey's brother-in-law and Kiley's father.
"Her dad and I talk about her all of the time," Kassey said. "I'll relay things to him, and he'll bounce things off me and then work on them with Kiley."
Kassey likes to remain in the shadows with Kiley's softball career, and she's helped coax her niece to seek guidance from others. Kiley spent time with Andrean coach Brooke Baker-Runyon and members of the Northwestern coaching staff in last offseason.
"It warms my heart that she values my opinion," Kassey said of her niece. "It's great that she's been able to see what else is out there. She can be herself."
Kiley finished her sophomore season 16-4 with a 1.05 ERA and 118 strikeouts in 133 2/3 innings. She had seven shutouts. She also hit .315 with four home runs and 17 RBIs.
"She just dedicated herself to getting better," Portage coach Lisa Hayes said. "She did great for us in the fifth spot in the order, getting us a lot of RBIs. With the composure she keeps, it's hard to believe she's just a sophomore."
Kassey believes her niece has shown great maturity on the mound.
"Kiley has one of the most mature demeanors on the mound that I've ever seen with a pitcher," Kassey said. "Nothing rattles her. Her focus is on each play. With a lot of people, it takes a long time to develop that."
Kiley just wanted to stay in the moment, a way of showing support for her teammates.
"It's easier to get down on yourself when the team is down," Kiley said. "I've played other positions, so I know what it's like to make mistakes. I just wanted to try to keep everyone up. I might not have been one of the seven senior leaders, but you get that role when you're in the circle."
She remained composed in the championship, shutting out Franklin Central 2-0.
"I knew I didn't have to be perfect," Kiley said. "I knew I had the offense and defense behind me."
Kiley also had plenty of support in the stands, including grandma Millie Arnato, who Kassey referred to as "Kiley's No. 1 fan."
Kassey was at her son's baseball tournament, but she kept tabs on the game.
"My whole family was listening to it on the radio," she said. "As soon as they said Portage was two outs from the title, me and my dad had tears in our eyes, knowing that Kiley helped bring the team to where they were.
"I'm so proud of her. She's her own person and very independent."