Timberwolves claim state championship | Softball
Last updated 6/1/2018 at Noon
Jackson didn’t shy away from its goals.
At the start of the season, the Timberwolves agreed that at the top of the list was winning a state championship.
Unlike past years when the subject generally was not brought up, the players and coaches continued to discuss what they needed to do to win a 4A title throughout the regular season.
Jackson will have a lot more to talk about in the future as the Wolfpack cruised through the postseason, culminating with a 6-3 victory over Wesco 4A rival Monroe in the 4A state softball championship game Saturday, May 26, at the Dwight-Merkel Sports Complex in Spokane.
The state softball title is the first in school history.
“I think we have a permanent smile on our faces right now,” Jackson coach Kyle Peacocke said.
In 12 previous state tournaments appearances, the Wolfpack’s best finish was fourth place in 2016, which was the only time the team brought home any state trophy.
“I feel very honored,” senior catcher Sam Mutolo said of being part of the first Jackson team to win a state softball championship. “I’m just so proud of my team. We’ve been talking about it all year. It was surreal. For the past three years we shied away from talking about winning a state title. We didn’t want to jinx it.
“This year we went out for it. Straight from the start, we weren’t afraid.”
The Timberwolves (25-1) not only weren’t afraid, they welcomed the challenge of winning a state title.
“We decided that’s what we needed to talk about,” senior shortstop Kristina Day said. “It definitely helped us get there. We knew what we could do. We believed in ourselves.”
Junior pitcher Iyanla “Ice” Pennington dominated the opposition as she did throughout the regular season. Pennington, who was named one of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association’s Athletes of the Week, allowed only three runs and struck out 52 hitters in four games. The Jackson standout threw her third no-hitter of the season against Camas in the semifinals.
Pennington, like the rest of the Timberwolves embraced the challenge of the state tournament.
“The batters definitely made me work hard to get them out,” she said. “They definitely made me better.”
For much of the tournament, Pennington overpowered the opposition. But she also mixed up her pitches, throwing the rise ball, curve ball and screw ball.
“She was just doing what she usually does,” Mutolo said. “It was working.”
Saturday’s championship game was the fourth time, Jackson faced the Bearcats this season. Jackson won all three of the previous meetings, but all three contests were close 2-1, 5-3 during the regular season and 2-0 in the district championship game.
“I knew I was going to have to do something different,” Pennington said. “We knew each batter’s weaknesses. It was just about me hitting my spots and listening to what Sam was calling.”
Peacocke said that’s it’s tough to beat a team four times.
“They really presented a challenge to us,” the Jackson coach said. “They had a chance to see Ice three times. They hit some balls pretty hard. We knew it was going to be a battle.”
Jackson took a 4-0 lead in the top of the fourth with junior Macy Tarbox delivering the key hit, a 2-out, 2-RBI single. Monroe (21-7) responded with three runs in the bottom of the inning to cut the Wolfpack advantage to 4-3. Jackson added two more runs in the seventh inning.
The six runs truly were a team effort as no Wolfpack player had more than one hit. Day, Mutolo and Jessica Assantor each drove in a run. Assantor executed a suicide squeeze, Jackson’s third in the tournament.
“Every part of our lineup contributed,” Day said.
The Wolfpack defense also did its part with solid play in the infield and outfield.
“We really played great behind Ice,” Peacocke said. “All four of my infielders made great plays. Macy Tarbox made several good plays in the outfield throughout the tournament.”
Jackson opened the tournament with a 10-0 victory over Kentwood on Friday, May 25. The victory sent the Wolfpack into a quarterfinal matchup with Puyallup, which defeated the Timberwolves in the same game at last year’s tournament.
The Vikings, who came in as the top-ranked 4A team in the state, weren’t Peacocke’s first choice as a quarterfinal opponent.
“We definitely wanted to beat them more than if we hadn’t played them last year,” Pennington said. “It definitely drove us and made us stronger.”
Pennington allowed only three hits to lead the Timberwolves to a 4-0 victory over Puyallup and a berth into the semifinals.
“Getting that second win was a big energy boost for the next day,” Mutolo said. “We were one step closer to our goal.”
Peacocke chatted with the Puyallup coach after the game, who told him that Pennington is the best pitcher he’s ever seen.
The Jackson junior righthander started day two of the state tournament with another gem no hits, 16 strikeouts as the Wolfpack blanked Camas 6-0 in the semifinals.
Jackson’s success this season, Day said, was a result of the players’ trust and commitment to each other.
“We had a lot of talks about being a team player and not being selfish,” Day said. “Each time we talked we took another step forward to being a unit.”
The Timberwolves lose only three seniors in catcher Sam Mutolo, shortstop Kristina Day and outfielder Braylin Jenson. The three brought veteran leadership to a roster that included 13 freshmen and sophomores.
“They’ve just been tremendous leaders all year,” Jackson coach Kyle Peacocke said. “Not only with their performances on the field but their energy and helping the team stay focused. They’ve played in a lot of playoff games. They brought a sense of confidence and calm to the rest of the team.”
Every player the Wolfpack brought to Spokane saw action at the state tournament. So with that experience and the return of junior pitcher Iyanla Pennington, the future looks good.
“I think we’ll have high expectations for next year,” Peacocke said.