MONROE — Iyanla Pennington burst onto the Snohomish County prep softball scene last season with a brilliant sophomore campaign.
The hard-throwing Jackson hurler has been even more dominant this spring.
Pennington continued her early-season tear Friday afternoon, tossing a three-hitter and striking out 13 as the visiting Timberwolves remained unbeaten with a 2-1 win over Monroe in a Wesco 4A showdown.
“She’s incredible,” Jackson coach Kyle Peacocke said. “She’s a pretty special kid and our team just kind of rallies around her energy.”
Pennington, a junior who goes by the nickname “Ice,” hasn’t allowed an earned run in 45 innings pitched this season.
The right-handed fireballer has struck out 96 batters, an average of 2.1 per inning. She has yielded just 13 hits — less than one every three innings — while limiting opponents to a .103 batting average.
Peacocke said Pennington upped her velocity from about 63-64 mph last season to 65-66 mph this spring.
“I put in a lot of work (this past) offseason and just (came) out trying to get my team as far as we can,” Pennington said. “I’ve gotten a lot more movement on my balls and a lot more spin.”
Pennington allowed just six base runners while shutting down a Monroe lineup that was averaging 10.3 runs per game. She didn’t allow a runner past second base until the sixth inning.
“Ice is a phenomenal pitcher,” Bearcats coach Ashley Tuiasosopo said.
Jackson senior Braylin Jenson led off the game with a line-drive double over the center fielder’s head. Kristina Day, the ensuing batter, grounded a base hit up the middle to score Jenson for the game’s first run.
Jackson junior Macy Tarbox led off the second inning with a single and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Then after a Hannah Thompson base hit, Julia Dillon lofted a sacrifice fly to left field to bring home Tarbox for a 2-0 Timberwolves lead.
Monroe (7-2 overall, 1-2 Wesco 4A) threatened in the bottom of the sixth, putting runners on second and third with one out. But Pennington induced cleanup hitter Hannah Hvitved into an infield pop out and fanned Taylor Durant with a blazing fastball to escape the jam.
“She’s gotten to the point where she doesn’t let those situations rattle her,” Peacocke said. “I think actually (they) kind of pump her up a little bit. … She doesn’t panic. She just bears down and goes after it.”
Pennington received a highlight-reel play from her defense in the bottom of the seventh when Monroe’s Elise Allen led off with a deep fly ball to left field. Tracking the ball off the bat, Tarbox ran back and leaped for a spectacular diving catch.
“My heart was pounding once I saw it come off the bat,” Pennington said. “But she always seems to come up with the ball, so I knew that she was going to catch it somehow. And she definitely went all-out for it.”
“Oh my gosh, that was a fantastic catch,” Peacocke added. “Incredible. I thought it was over her head, for sure.”
Monroe sophomore Paige Stringer followed with a blistering line-drive single and advanced to third on an error by the center fielder. Stringer then scored the game’s lone run on a wild pitch, but Pennington struck out the Bearcats’ next two batters to seal the victory.
Jackson (9-0, 3-0), which reached the Class 4A state quarterfinals last season, has outscored opponents by a combined 88-7 margin this spring.
“I actually don’t think we’ve played our best yet,” Peacocke said. “But it’s awesome that (we) can go out there, be that successful and still understand that there’s a lot more to go and a lot more growth that’s going to happen.”
Monroe senior pitcher Cassidy Conrad allowed two earned runs and four hits in the loss. After yielding a run in each of the first two innings, she pitched no-hit ball over the final five frames.
“I was really proud of her and how she handled this game,” Tuiasosopo said. “Starting off the first two innings like that, most pitchers are going to fold. But she showed her resiliency and true character of the competitor she is (by) keeping us in this game. She did a great job.”
Monroe, which placed third in last year’s 4A state tournament, has lost back-to-back one-run games. The Bearcats were undefeated before falling 3-2 to defending Wesco 4A champion Lake Stevens on Wednesday.
“It’s just important for (the players) to understand that this is a journey,” Tuiasosopo said. “We’ve just got to bounce back, stick together and just know that there’s a lot more of the season to be played.”