Just like it has for more than a handful of coaches, the pandemic put a dent into the coaching spirit of Jackson High School softball coach Kyle Peacocke.
Peacocke led the Timberwolves to a second consecutive Class 4A championship in 2019, joining Juanita (1989-90), Columbia River (1996-97) and Kelso (2009-2010) as the only largest-classification programs to win back-to-back state titles.
In 2020, he thought he had a team that could win a third in a row, only to see the spring season canceled for all sports.
And he came into this spring in wait-and-see mode.
That is not his status anymore.
Buoyed by a high-level class of ninth graders, Jackson navigated a shortened but difficult 2021 schedule just fine – the Timberwolves went 10-3 against a string of state tournament-level competition.
A year from now, Jackson will surely be the 4A favorite – and could join Kamiakin (2012-14) as the only 4A or 3A program to win three consecutive state crowns.
“I am not going anywhere,” said Peacocke, who will enter his 10th season next spring. “I am having way too much fun. This year kind of reignited things.”
It is easy to see why.
Workhorse ace pitchers can dominate this sport, and Peacocke had one to rely on in Iyanla “Ice” de Jesus during those 4A title runs. She is now pitching at Coastal Carolina.
Jackson had another one in that mold in Yanina Sherwood, who became the everyday pitcher as a ninth grader after the first week of the season. She finished 10-3 with a 1.21 earned-run average, striking out 156 hitters in 80-plus innings.
“Her composure and understanding how to pitch is what amazed me,” Peacocke said. “There was never any situation where I felt it was too big for her.”
Sherwood is a work-a-holic – one whom Peacocke predicts will be touching 70 mph on her fastball by the time she is a senior.
And anchoring the lineup for the next three seasons will be Sherwood and talented shortstop Rachel Sysum, another ninth grader who bopped a team-leading six home runs and finished with 24 RBI in 13 games.
“Rachel has always been a second baseman, but honestly she grew into that (shortstop) position – and made some plays that were impressive,” Peacocke said.
Leneyah Mitchell was the third standout ninth grader behind the plate. She and fellow 2024 class teammate Hailey Pelletier could share the catcher position next season.
Simone Williams should see more innings as the No. 2 pitcher in 2022 as a junior, and Macie Dean – also a member of the 2023 class – is entrenched as the everyday centerfielder.
“This very much reminds me of the beginning of the run we went through, without a doubt,” Peacocke said.