SPOKANE — Three times this spring the Jackson softball team beat Monroe at different Snohomish County locales. Would a fourth meeting, 300 miles away with a Class 4A state title on the line, offer a change in outcome?
Nope. New location, same result.
For the first time in program history, with Timberwolves ace Iyanla Pennington tossing her fourth game in two days, Jackson claimed a 4A state championship Saturday with a 6-3 win over the Bearcats on Saturday at Dwight-Merkel Sports Complex in Spokane.
“It’s a special group of girls,” Jackson coach Kyle Peacocke said. “They’ve always had this goal from the beginning of the season. They knew what they wanted and they did it. For our program, it’s been building for a few years. We won the district championship four years in a row. The kids really wanted to get the big one and got it.”
The Timberwolves used one of the state’s premier pitchers, strong defense and timely hitting to capture the top prize.
Fresh off a state semifinal 16-strikeout no-hitter in which Pennington took a liner off her non-throwing arm, the pitcher Jackson calls “Ice” cooled off Monroe’s hot hitting and helped the T-Wolves earn their title.
“She has just been incredible,” Peacock said. “She is so locked in as a pitcher. In the semifinal against Camas she was in a lot of pain, but she gutted it out.”
Pennington got plenty of help from her teammates. In a championship game that Peacocke said Jackson resorted to small-ball, the Timberwolves made two game-altering defensive plays, including a critical double play started by second baseman Jessica Assantor to stem a Monroe rally.
The plays were emblematic of Jackson’s entire season, especially the postseason. In six playoff games, the Timberwolves didn’t give up a run until the fourth inning of the championship.
The Timberwolves, against Monroe, had timely hits, too. Macy Tarbox hit a clutch two-out, two-run single as part of a four-run fourth inning, and Kristina Day delivered a late inning two-out run-scoring single.
For the Bearcats, Monroe coach Ashley Tuiasosopo said finally beating Jackson would have been a fairy-tale ending to their season, but despite some success against Pennington, Monroe couldn’t muster enough offense.
Monroe fell to Jackson 2-1 and 5-3 during the regular season and suffered a 2-0 loss to the Timberwolves in the District 1 title game nine days ago.
“I’m definitely proud of these kids,” Tuiasosopo said. “Nobody likes to lose, but with the legacy these seniors will leave behind, having the best state finish in program history is something to be proud of.”
The Bearcats entered the title game riding a wave of emotion after Hannah Hvitved drove in a game-winning run in the bottom of the seventh to beat Central Valley 1-0 in the semifinal round.
Against Jackson, the Timberwolves built a 4-0 lead in the top of the fourth before Monroe answered with three runs in the bottom half of the inning. Jackson added two more runs in the top of the seventh, and the Bearcats couldn’t push anymore across.
“We were able to get some hits, but Jackson made some great defensive plays,” Tuiasosopo said. “That is what those games come down to. Can you get a lucky break here or there? We weren’t able to. Tip your hat to Jackson. They played great today.”
The second-place finish for Monroe (21-7) came after the Bearcats placed third in state last spring — quite an accomplishment for a program that had only been to state five times before last year and never placed.
The Jackson (25-1) seniors leave behind an impressive legacy, too, winning 25 games and adding their first title in dominant fashion. All told, the Timberwolves ended their state tournament with a 26-3 scoring differential, which included a 6-0 semifinal win over Camas prior to the title game win.
“They have a really quiet confidence,” Peacocke said. “They have a unique combination of having fun and also staying focused on the task at hand. We didn’t make many mistakes all year, but when we did we never let those get compounded. This (tournament) we had 18 healthy players, and everyone got into a game at one time. These kids have been mentally prepared and really focused, and it started from the beginning of the season.”