MILL CREEK — The undefeated Jackson High School softball team faced one of its biggest tests of the regular season Thursday afternoon in league rival Glacier Peak.
And for a brief while, the Timberwolves trailed after allowing an early home run. But that was short-lived.
Like every challenge it’s faced this spring, Jackson rose to the occasion.
Yanina Sherwood tossed a three-hitter and the Timberwolves rode an all-around performance to a 5-1 win over the visiting Grizzlies in the first of two showdowns between Wesco 4A’s top two teams.
“We knew coming in that it was gonna be a battle,” Jackson coach Kyle Peacocke said. “… We were fired up for the challenge and the opportunity. They kind of punched us in the mouth with that home run, and we responded. So I was really proud of the kids.”
Thursday’s matchup featured the top two teams in the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association’s Class 4A RPI rankings. The Timberwolves entered the day at No. 1, while Glacier Peak was No. 2.
With the victory, Jackson (16-0, 4-0 Wesco 4A) gained sole possession of first place in the league standings. The Grizzlies (13-2, 3-1) fell to second place. They meet again on May 11 in the regular-season finale for both teams.
“Glacier Peak obviously is a really good team,” Peacocke said.
But no team this season has been able to take down the mighty Timberwolves.
Jackson is one of four remaining unbeaten teams in the state’s 4A classification. The others are Puyallup (12-0), Skyview (12-0) and Kentwood (11-0).
The Timberwolves are the two-time reigning 4A state champions, having won back-to-back state titles in 2018 and 2019 before the coronavirus pandemic led to the cancellation of the 2020 and 2021 state tournaments.
No players remain on Jackson’s roster from either of those two state championship teams. But with a massive influx of young talent — including four sophomore starters and one freshman starter — the Timberwolves are once again looking like a state-title favorite.
Jackson has seven wins over teams in the top 10 of their respective classification’s RPI rankings — including victories over five of 3A’s top 10 teams.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Peacocke said. “It’s been a great season. … We’re just kind of taking it one day at a time and enjoying each day and each game.”
Sherwood had yet another dominant outing in the circle for the Timberwolves on Thursday.
The sophomore right-hander shook off a second-inning homer and finished with eight strikeouts, including key punchouts to escape jams in the third and fourth innings. She allowed just one run, two walks and three hits in a complete-game performance.
For the season, Sherwood has a 1.00 earned-run average in 84.1 innings pitched. She has 132 strikeouts and just 23 walks, having fanned a whopping 39.3% of the batters she’s faced. And she’s limited opponents to a meager .171 batting average.
“She did a really nice job mixing up pitches,” Peacocke said. “And they were squaring up some balls, so she really had to work the zone and speeds — and up and down, and in and out.”
Glacier Peak struck the first blow, when freshman cleanup hitter Bree Titus launched a second-inning solo homer to center field to give the Grizzlies an early 1-0 lead.
But Sherwood didn’t flinch.
“The home run didn’t faze her,” Peacocke said. “… The thing about her that I appreciate is there’s no panic. She’s calm. She knows what she’s doing and just hits her spots. And she’s not afraid to rely on her defense.”
The Timberwolves answered right back with two runs in the bottom of the second. Simone Williams, a junior, tied the game with a deep sacrifice fly to center field that was mere feet away from a potential grand slam. Rachel Sysum, a sophomore, followed by lining a run-scoring double into the right-center field gap to give Jackson a 2-1 edge.
In the third inning, Glacier Peak put a runner on second with two outs. Sherwood responded with an inning-ending strikeout.
In the fourth, the Grizzlies put runners on first and second with one out. Sherwood shut down the threat again, punching out the next two batters to preserve Jackson’s one-run lead.
“When she has pressure situations, she kind of has another gear — a little extra mustard on a couple of those pitches,” Peacocke said.
In the bottom of the fourth, Sherwood led off with a line-drive double to left field and senior Sydney Warren followed with an infield hit. Kalia Zellmer, a senior, then drove in a run on a sacrifice fly. Sysum brought home another run when she reached on an error, stretching the Timberwolves’ lead to 4-1.
Zellmer, Jackson’s No. 8 hitter, crushed a solo homer to right-center field in the sixth inning to make it 5-1.
Zellmer was the eighth different player to homer for the Timberwolves this season. Jackson features a particularly deep and balanced lineup, with all nine starters batting at least .350. As a team, the Timberwolves are hitting .395 with 20 homers and 72 extra-base hits in 16 games.
“It just puts so much pressure when an opposing pitcher knows that the 7-8-9 batters are not easy outs,” Peacocke said. “… It’s a total team effort, and it’s fun to watch.”
Jackson also showcased its defense with an error-free day in the field. The highlight was a spectacular diving catch by freshman center fielder Allie Thomsen in the fifth inning. On a line drive hit directly toward her, Thomsen reached out with a full-extension dive and made a high-degree-of-difficulty grab.
“My team had my back the whole entire way,” Sherwood said. “The outfield made some completely insane catches that I could not even believe.”
Brenna Farman and Maia Mesa each pitched three innings for Glacier Peak. Farman allowed three earned runs, one unearned run and five hits. Mesa yielded one run and two hits.
The loss snapped an eight-game win streak for the Grizzlies, whose only other blemish was a 4-3 non-league defeat to Monroe on March 30.
“Our girls played hard from start to finish,” Glacier Peak coach Stefanie Celix said. “They’re a good group of girls this year and they’re committed to the program and seeing the vision, so it’s been a good season up to this point.”