EVERETT — Same opponent. Same field. And once again, a shutout on the line.
The situation Case Matter found himself in Friday night was very similar to last year’s district title game, when he fell just one out short of a no-hitter after reaching the pitch-count limit.
This time, the Jackson ace got to finish the job.
Matter struck out 12 batters and pitched a two-hit shutout to lead the Jackson baseball team to a 1-0 win over Cascade in a chilly Wesco 4A pitcher’s duel under the lights at Everett Memorial Stadium.
“Day in and day out, he’s always one of the best in the state,” Timberwolves catcher Ben Steck said of his standout pitcher. “He’s always spot-on. His fastball is always super firm. Curveball is always great. Changeup is always great. … He’s a tough guy to hit off.”
In a matchup between the conference’s top two teams from last season, Jackson (8-3 overall, 4-1 Wesco 4A) scored the game’s lone run off a first-inning Cascade error.
With their ace spinning a gem on the hill, that proved to be all the Timberwolves needed.
Matter faced just four batters over the minimum in a masterful 103-pitch performance, punching out 12 of 25 hitters while shutting down a Cascade offense that was averaging 8.6 runs per game.
It continued a dominant start to the season for the Jackson junior right-hander, who has allowed just one earned run and eight hits in 22 innings pitched. With Friday’s shutout, Matter lowered his earned-run average to a mere 0.32.
“He commanded the plate,” Timberwolves coach Kirk Nicholson said. “He threw the ball where he wanted to throw it (and) kept them off-balance. … He’s got an arm that nobody else has — on my team, at least.”
Cascade pitcher Gage Davis also delivered a strong performance, yielding no earned runs and just two hits in six innings. The lefty senior struck out four batters in a low-scoring affair that featured just four hits combined between the two teams.
“The two (pitchers) competed really well,” Bruins coach David Benson said. “Case has had success against us in the past, and he came out and attacked the zone and did everything he needed to give his team a chance to win.
“And Gage, he did the same thing. … It was one of the better games that I’ve seen him pitch, but it just kind of sucks falling on the wrong side of it.”
Matter’s strikeout-filled, two-hit shutout was reminiscent of his performance in the last meeting between these two teams, when he pitched 6 2/3 innings of no-hit ball to lead Jackson past Cascade in last year’s Class 4A Northwest District title game. The only thing that stopped Matter that night was the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association’s 105-pitch limit, which forced him to exit one out shy of a no-hitter.
In his past two outings against Cascade, Matter has posted 25 strikeouts and allowed just two hits in 13 2/3 scoreless innings.
“He just (has) kind of a bulldog mentality,” said Steck, an Oregon State-bound senior. “He’s always trying to blow it past guys. (And his) curveball, he can throw it in there whenever he wants to … (and) strike them out with it.”
In addition to his pitching masterpiece, Matter scored the game’s only run. Matter led off the bottom of the first by reaching base on a hit-by-pitch, then came around to score on a sacrifice bunt, wild pitch and an errant throw to give Jackson an early 1-0 lead.
“I feel like we kind of gave them that run,” Benson said. “But they’re a really talented team, and when you give an inch, they’ll take a mile.”
Cascade (7-4, 4-1) had a runner on second base with two outs in both the fourth and fifth innings, but Matter thwarted both scoring threats with an inning-ending strikeout.
Then after the Bruins put a runner on second with one out in the sixth, Matter struck out the next two batters to end the inning and preserve Jackson’s one-run lead.
Matter fanned five of the final seven batters he faced, including back-to-back strikeouts to end the game.
“We couldn’t get a hit with runners in scoring position, but you’ve gotta tip your cap,” Benson said. “Case did something special tonight.”
PLAY OF THE GAME
Matter was spectacular on the mound, but the night’s top play belonged to Cascade shortstop Benjamin Hansen.
With a runner on third and two outs in the bottom of the second, Hansen made a sliding stop on a hard-hit grounder to his right. Then, in one motion, the Cascade senior popped up off the turf, pivoted and fired a strike to first base for an inning-ending defensive gem that saved a run.
“He’s a very talented defensive player,” Benson said. “You put him on turf and it’s almost unfair. We see that stuff from him a lot.”
The Timberwolves and Bruins are scheduled to conclude their two-game series at 4 p.m. Tuesday at Cascade High School.