The Jones College Bobcats have something to prove heading into 2019. The Bobcats posted an impressive 38-11 record, but finished second in the MACJC last season. They were eliminated in the MACJC best-of-3 playoff series by Hinds and did not qualify for the Region 23 Tournament. And they are not ranked in the NJCAA Division II preseason Top 20 this year. “We have some built-in motivation moving into 2019 because we did not win the league outright last year,” said fourth-year head coach Chris Kirtland. “We ended up losing the league by one game last year, and being so close, I think it makes our sophomore class a little hungrier going into 2019. “But 2018 was a great success in winning 38 games and we have a sophomore class that returns with a ton of experience and the game is not going to be too fast for them. We are looking forward to blending good leadership with a talented freshmen class and we really like the pieces we have heading into the season.” Kirtland, who has guided Jones to an outstanding 138-24 record in his three seasons as head coach and the 2016 national championship, believed the Bobcats were in good shape heading into the home opener vs. Coastal Alabama-East. “We got back to campus the first week of January, so we’ve had a lot of preparation going into the season,” he said. “That’s been very valuable to us. We’ve had six-plus scrimmages, which really gets our guys’ feet wet with live competition and at-bats and pitching and so forth. “Our non-conference schedule will give us an opportunity to get some guys out there and see what we are able to hang our hat on as we move into the mid-part of the season.” The Bobcats will also be playing for their 11th consecutive postseason appearance. “Every player that has come to Jones and spent two years in our program since 2013 has a championship ring to show for their time here,” Kirtland said. “The guys who showed up in the fall of 2018 have a chance to continue that streak as well.” Kirtland praised the work of his assistant coaches – Pitching Coach/ Recruiting Coordinator Wes Thigpen, Hitting Coach/Strength and Conditioning Coach Ladd Rhodes and Graduate Assistant Coach Myles Gentry. “Our coaching staff has done a great job throughout the school year, dating back to last summer,” he said. “When last season ended, the staff developed a plan as far as recruiting and player development goes. I can’t think of two harder-working assistant coaches than Coach Thigpen and Coach Rhodes. They hammer the recruiting trail and are continuously finding ways to make this program better. What they do each day with our players as far as development and preparing these guys to be winners is second to none. “Coach Gentry is in his second year with us as a graduate assistant and he is one and the same. Our coaches’ office is constantly flowing with ideas, and as a head coach, I could not be more pleased than with this group of guys I’m working with every day. If you have that type of dynamic as far as your coaching staff it rubs off on the players and it contributes to our continued success.” Kirtland is excited about the makeup of the Bobcat infield. “We have a decent balance with guys coming back, but we’ve got some solid newcomers that should make their way on the field and have a good impact for us,” he said. In the outfield, the Bobcats have experience with two starters returning, Trace Henry (Mooreville) and Brandon Hale (Pontotoc). Overall, six players could see playing time in the outfield. The Bobcats took a big hit on the pitching staff from 2018. “We have some big shoes to fill” Kirtland said. “We had success in adding transfers to our staff,” he said. “This was important to add depth because of tough luck injuries and members of our recruiting class signing to go pro. That has bolstered out staff, added to our depth and given us a chance to be successful this spring. OUTLOOK “I really love the pieces we have and I love the individuals who are going to represent us this year. The team has done everything we’ve asked. I hope these players are able to get what they deserve this spring” Kirtland said. The Bobcats swept Coastal Alabama-East, 6-4 and 13-1, in their season-opening doubleheader at Community Bank Park on Wednesday. Southeastern Louisiana transfer Lane Thomas faced only one batter over the minimum in five innings to win the second game. Jones (2-0) will host Southeast Iowa at 2 p.m. today (Saturday) for a doubleheader.