EVERETT — Battling for the chance to secure a state berth, the Jackson and Skyline high school softball teams went back and forth in a marathon pitcher’s duel.
It took several extra frames — and some help from the international tiebreaker rule — to finally break the deadlock.
Jackson suffered a heartbreaking 3-2 loss to Skyline in a tense 10-inning clash Wednesday afternoon in a winner-to-state Class 4A District 1/2 Tournament semifinal at Phil Johnson Ballfields.
“It was tough,” Timberwolves coach Kyle Peacocke said. “But it was a good game between two really good teams and two good pitchers.”
Skyline senior ace Ryan Grace, a Harvard University commit, was practically untouchable for most of the afternoon.
Grace struck out a whopping 24 of the 35 batters she faced, flustering Jackson’s hitters with her devastating rise ball. The left-hander had a stretch in which she fanned 13 out of 14 batters, including eight in a row. She allowed just two runs, three hits and two walks in a masterful 10-inning performance.
Jackson sophomore ace Yanina Sherwood was equally effective. The hard-throwing right-hander took a shutout into the seventh and finished with seven strikeouts in 7 1/3 innings, while yielding just two runs, five hits and two walks.
Freshman right-hander Allie Thomsen added a strong 2 2/3 innings of relief for the Timberwolves, using her offspeed arsenal to strike out six of the 10 batters she faced.
“That Skyline pitcher is the best pitcher that we’ve seen all year,” Peacocke said. “(She has) just an incredible rise ball. It was a battle between Yanina and her.”
The game was scoreless until the bottom of the sixth, when Jackson sophomore Rachel Sysum reached on a one-out single up the middle and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt.
The left-handed-hitting Thomsen then pulled a two-run homer over the right-center field fence, giving the Timberwolves a 2-0 lead.
It was Thomsen’s team-leading 10th homer of the season, including her third in the past four games.
“That was huge,” Peacocke said. “… She squared one up, and she’s been solid for us all year.”
But just when it seemed like Jackson (20-2) had broken through, the Spartans answered right back.
In the top of the seventh, Skyline junior Finley Caringer lined a leadoff double that landed just inside the left-field line. Two batters later, junior Macen Staley blasted a two-run opposite-field homer over the right-field fence to tie the game at 2-2.
In the top of the eighth, Thomsen faced a first-and-second jam after entering in relief and hitting the first batter she faced. But she quickly settled in, striking out the next two hitters with offspeed pitches to keep the game tied.
Beginning in the ninth, both teams started each half-inning with a runner on second base, per the international tiebreaker rule.
Neither team capitalized on its free runner in the ninth.
But in the top of the 10th, Skyline came through. Grace began the frame on second base and advanced to third on a passed ball. Lindsey Murai, the Spartans’ No. 9 hitter, then lined a go-ahead single into right field to bring home Grace for a 3-2 lead.
In the bottom of the 10th, Jackson advanced the potential tying run to third base on a leadoff sacrifice bunt. But Grace was unfazed, fanning the final two batters to seal the victory.
After Grace’s 24th and final punchout, her teammates rushed to the pitcher’s circle and mobbed her in celebration.
With the victory, Skyline (19-7) clinched its first state berth since 2016 and just its second in the past 16 full-length seasons.
Jackson dropped to the consolation bracket with the loss, but the two-time reigning 4A state champions still have two more chances to secure their sixth consecutive state trip.
The Timberwolves, who won the two most recent 4A state titles in 2018 and 2019, face Wesco 4A rival Lake Stevens in a non-elimination winner-to-state game at 4 p.m. Friday at Phil Johnson Ballfields. Lake Stevens handed Jackson its only other loss of the season.
The loser of that game then gets one more chance to reach state, when it faces either Redmond or Inglemoor at 6 p.m. Friday in a winner-to-state, loser-out contest.
“We just told them we’ve gotta have a short memory,” Peacocke said. “We have one day of practice to kind of regroup and get ourselves ready to go.”