“The Janitor” cleaned up last week.
Former Bath County High School and James Madison softball star Jailyn Ford was named the most valuable player of the National Pro Fastpitch championship series last Saturday after helping the USSSA Pride win its second straight title.
The left-hander had a hand in every game of the Florida-based Pride’s three-game sweep of the Chicago Bandits, recording a win and two saves in her three relief appearances.
“The whole experience was one of the better feelings, being able to be relied on in such a big setting,” she said this week in a phone interview from Bath County.
Ford, 25, called herself “The Janitor” this season because of her relief role.
“You kind of came in with runners on and tried to clean up the inning as best as you could,” she said.
She had a 0.00 ERA in the three-game series, striking out 15 and walking one in eight innings.
“She might be the best pitcher in the world this summer,” said Pride coach Gerry Glasco, who is also the coach of Sun Belt Conference member Louisiana. “How mentally tough she stayed in those biggest moments [of the finals].”
Ford was 7-4 with a 1.93 ERA, 68 strikeouts and 16 walks in 61 2/3 innings for the Pride (35-13) in the regular season.
“She’s really elite. She just pitched on another level than I’ve ever seen her this summer,” Glasco said. “She’s improved her change-up. She’s added an off-speed dropball. … Her riseball’s sharper. She’s throwing harder.”
Ford was not one of the 30 players who were invited earlier this month to the U.S. Olympic trials, which will be held in October in Oklahoma. But Glasco hopes Ford’s MVP performance will result in a late invitation to the trials.
“If there’s five pitchers on the Olympic team for the United States, she should get heavy consideration for one of those spots,” Glasco said. “She’s pitching at a level right now equal to any pitcher in the world.”
Softball will return to the Olympics next year for the first time since 2008. Ford said she is not expecting a late trials invitation.
“I tried to make a statement this summer,” Ford said. “But I’m happy with what I’m doing and where I’m at, and I’ll cheer for whoever’s on that team.”
National Pro Fastpitch is a six-team league that began its season in May. This was Ford’s fourth straight summer in the league; she pitched her first two NPF seasons for Akron.
Ford was 4-0 with three saves, a 1.62 ERA, 48 strikeouts and nine walks in 43 1/3 innings for the Pride in the 2018 regular season. But the Pride did not use her in the championship series last year.
“She’s definitely improved as a player [since last year],” Glasco said.
Ford relished her closer role this year.
“It was cool to be able to be relied on and be that person that can come out of the bullpen and get those outs,” she said. “It does take a little bit of a different mentality than starting off 0-0 in the first inning.”
And that’s why Glasco wanted Ford as his closer.
“She’s a fierce, fierce competitor, so I wanted to get her competitiveness on the mound in the late innings,” Glasco said. “I thought her mental makeup fit really well in that closer role.”
Ford was named a first-team All-American as a JMU senior in 2016, when she went 18-3 with a 1.03 ERA and also hit .324 with 11 homers.
But she had only four at-bats with the Pride this summer.
“With the closer role, it’s hard to have her in the lineup and [also] have her in the bullpen warming up when you need her,” Glasco said. “We’ve got a lot of hitters. There are very few elite pitchers.”
Ford also pitches in two other countries.
She is in her third year with Honda Reverta of the Japan Softball League. She pitched in Japan from February through late May before the league took a break for the NPF season.
Ford said her good play in Japan this year carried over to the NPF.
“In Japan, I was really starting to find a groove,” she said. “Coming back from an injury a couple years ago [she had wrist surgery at the end of 2016], I hadn’t felt the same yet. Finally I feel like I’m starting to be back to my college days or hopefully even better.”
Ford is spending this week in Bath County before heading to Japan next week for the second half of the season there. She will remain in Japan until October or November.
She was in Australia in December and January. It was her second straight winter living in Adelaide and pitching for the state of South Australia in a national tournament.
“In Japan or Australia, … I try to take the moment and realize it’s not Bath County anymore and thanks to softball, I’ve been able to experience a lot of the world,” said Ford, who was a two-time Timesland pitcher of the year in high school.
Ford does not earn six figures a year, but she’s not complaining.
“I’m very thankful … to be able to get paid to play, … to be on the stage or the levels that I’ve played at already,” she said. “I don’t have to work behind a desk.”