EVERETT — Lake Stevens star pitcher Sara Johnson got the best of the Jackson softball team during their two regular-season meetings.
This time, the Timberwolves hitters had their way.
And this time, it was Jackson ace Iyanla Pennington who delivered a spectacular gem.
Pennington tossed a three-hitter and recorded 16 strikeouts as the third-seeded Timberwolves punched their ticket to state with a 5-1 win over top-seeded Lake Stevens in the Class 4A District 1 title game Thursday night at Phil Johnson Ballfields.
The victory gives Jackson (20-3) its third straight district crown and secures the Timberwolves their third consecutive trip to state. Lake Stevens (19-2) will face Monroe in a loser-out game Friday for the district’s second and final state berth.
“This is the first time that I’ve relaxed in a long time,” Peacocke said after his team’s state-clinching win. “When you only get two spots (to state), you get excited for the district championship game. But you know that if you don’t win, you have to come back and play again. It feels great. Just really excited for the kids. Just speechless, really.”
Pennington, a sophomore who has committed to Coastal Carolina University, shook off a first-inning solo homer by Lake Stevens catcher Payton Beaver and allowed only one hit in the final five innings. She struck out nine of the last 10 batters she faced, punctuating her dominant performance with a game-ending strikeout that sent her teammates and coaches pouring out of the dugout to celebrate with her on the mound.
“It’s all surreal,” Pennington said. “I don’t even know what to say. Everything’s starting to come together, it’s all working out well and I’m excited to go to state with my team.”
It was just the latest superb outing for Pennington, who tossed a three-hit shutout in Wednesday’s 5-0 semifinal win over Monroe. The sophomore sensation has been brilliant all season, but Peacocke said she’s taken another step the last two days.
“She’s having fun, totally confident, showing some emotion,” Peacocke said. “I think earlier in the year, she was a little bit tense, a little bit tight. And she just came out here and blew them down. I’m impressed. It was awesome.”
Pennington also had plenty of help from her team’s offense, which had managed only one run and four hits combined in Jackson’s two regular-season losses to Johnson and the Vikings.
But the Timberwolves had success against Lake Stevens’ ace Thursday, jumping out to a 4-1 lead in the third inning and finishing with eight hits.
“Those two (losses) fired these guys up to come out here and prove that we’re a better hitting team than that,” Peacocke said. “And I tip my hat to our players.”
Jackson’s Braylin Jenson began the scoring in the first, blooping a double into left-center field and crossing home two batters later on a two-out RBI single by Taylor Adams.
The Timberwolves then gained separation with a three-run third inning that was keyed by catcher Sam Mutolo’s two-run triple.
With runners on first and second, Mutolo hit a scorching one-out line drive that seared past a diving second baseman’s glove and went all the way to the fence. Two batters later, Mutolo’s courtesy runner scored on an RBI groundout to extend Jackson’s lead to 4-1.
“Absolutely huge,” Peacocke said of Mutolo’s go-ahead triple. “Sam Mutolo has just done a great job behind the plate all year (and) she’s really been a clutch hitter for us. Just a huge moment. … To get a two-run lead with (Pennington) pitching, we felt pretty good about it.”
Lake Stevens will look to rebound in Friday’s winner-to-state, loser-out game against Monroe. The Bearcats are the only other team to beat the Vikings this season.
“We just told (the players) that you’ve got to go home and let it go,” Lake Stevens coach Sarah Hirsch said. “(Pennington) threw a great game tonight, and we’re better than what we showed.”