MILL CREEK — Iyanla Pennington had big shoes to fill this spring.
The Jackson sophomore pitcher was tasked with replacing standout hurler Sophie Frost, who led the Timberwolves to a fourth-place finish in the Class 4A state tournament last season before graduating and joining the Cal State Fullerton University program.
Frost’s successor has risen to the occasion and then some.
Pennington continued her early-season brilliance with yet another masterful performance Friday afternoon, leading the unbeaten Timberwolves to a 2-1 win over Monroe in a Wesco 4A clash of state-tournament contenders at Jackson High School.
Pennington allowed only one run on four hits while tossing a complete game and lowering her season earned-run average to 1.29. She didn’t allow a hit out of the infield until the fifth inning and finished with nine strikeouts and one walk.
“She’s got ice in her veins — I just can’t say it enough,” Jackson coach Kyle Peacocke said. “It was a pretty incredible performance.”
Pennington knew she had to be on top of her game with Monroe senior McKenzie Schulz, a University of Washington commit, on the other side. Schulz was similarly impressive, surrendering no earned runs on three hits while recording five strikeouts and three walks.
The two teams entered the conference showdown averaging a combined 20.1 runs per game, but managed just seven total hits between them in the pitcher’s duel.
“You know it’s going to be a close game, so you’ve got to keep the balls in the park and let (your) team make the plays,” Pennington said.
Her teammates did just that, complimenting Pennington’s performance with an error-free showing and several nice plays in the field.
As for keeping the ball in the park? Pennington can thank the fence for that.
With Jackson (8-0, 3-0 Wesco 4A) nursing a 2-0 lead in the fifth inning, Schulz crushed an RBI double off the top of the right-center-field fence, missing a home run by mere inches.
“I’m just happy it stayed in the park,” Pennington said afterward with a smile.
Schultz’s double put the tying run on second base with one out, but Pennington responded with back-to-back strikeouts to quell the threat. Monroe (5-3, 1-1) didn’t put a runner in scoring position for the rest of the game.
“She doesn’t get rattled,” Peacocke said. “There’s times when she gets behind in the count and you don’t see her demeanor change, you don’t see her get frustrated. She just works her way out of those situations. When she gets a base-runner on, she just kind of gets tougher.”
The Timberwolves did just enough offensively against Schulz and took advantage of two Monroe errors.
After a second-inning Monroe throwing error put Jackson’s Macy Tarbox on second base, freshman Jillian Hampson lined a two-out RBI single into left field to give the Timberwolves an early 1-0 lead.
Jackson capitalized on another Monroe error in the third inning when senior Taylor Adams, a San Diego State University signee, lined a hard-hit ball that bounced off the shortstop’s glove and into the outfield, putting runners on second and third with one out.
Pennington, the ensuing batter, hit a grounder to second base and Jackson’s Sam Mutolo beat the throw home to extend the margin to 2-0.
“(When you’re facing) a Division-I pitcher, it’s one of those things where you just try to get runners on and scratch out anything you can,” Peacocke said.
Monroe coach Mike Birch said he was proud of his team’s fight, but noted the two errors were costly.
“We clean up the defense and it’s a different ballgame,” Birch said. “We can’t make errors. I’ve said that all along. When you play good teams, all it takes is one error.
“(Jackson) lost a really good pitcher last year in Sophie,” Birch added, “but they replaced her with an equally good pitcher. So we knew they were going to be tough, and they’re going to be tough the next time we face them. And hopefully we get to face them (a third time) in districts.”
At Jackson H.S.
Monroe 000 010 0—1 4 2
Jackson 011 000 x—2 3 0
McKenzie Schulz and Taylor Durant; Iyanla Pennington and Sam Mutolo. WP—Pennington. LP—Schulz. Highlights— Pennington (J) 7IP, 1ER, 9K; Jillian Hampson (J) 1-1, RBI; Schulz (M) 7IP, 0ER, 5K, 1-1, 2B, RBI; Durant (M) 1-3, R.