Ken Simpson had been dreading this particular Saturday for a while now.
Four years ago, he came on board as an assistant coach with the Garfield High School softball team when his daughter, Kaia, was a ninth grader — then eventually took over the reins of the program in 2018.
Simpson knew it would all go by quickly with the senior group.
But the ending?
“How can I be sad?” he said. “We had a fairy-tale ending.”
Garfield defeated Yelm, 10-4, to win the Class 3A state championship on a rainy Saturday afternoon at the RAC in Lacey.
And the Bulldogs became the first Seattle metro school to accomplish that feat.
“We are generally seen as the underdog because we are an inner-city team,” said Kaia Simpson, easily the tournament’s biggest standout. “I am just so proud of everyone.”
What makes this Class 3A title so sweet is where this program was five years ago.
In 2015, the Bulldogs had just completed a four-year stretch in which they won seven combined games. They were not only the Metro League’s worst team, they were one of the least-successful programs in the state.
In fact, when Kaia Simpson decided to go to Garfield to try and win in softball, an NCAA Division I coach told her father she was better off training on her own than turning out for this particular varsity team.
Two seasons ago, the Bulldogs earned a spot in the Class 3A tournament. Last season, they won a state game before being bounced out by, you guessed it … Yelm.
And this year, with a diverse core group – socio-economically and ethnically – Garfield not only captured the Metro crown, it went on to win its first Sea-King District title as well.
“We are probably the most diverse team in the state,” Ken Simpson said. “Instead of it making us weak in any way shape or form, it had made us strong.
“Nobody sees anything other than, ‘That is my friend, that is my teammate.'”
After upending defending 3A champion Bonney Lake in the semifinals, the Bulldogs jumped all over Yelm in the state finals.
They scored five runs in the fourth inning, including two on Kaia Simpson’s single up the middle, and two more on Nicola Simpson’s double in the gap, to grab a 7-1 lead.
The Tornados, who lost to Redmond in the 3A title game in 2017, would not go away quietly.
First baseman Hailey Brown’s two-run double in the sixth inning cut it to 7-4, and with two outs, Yelm brought the tying run to the plate in Savannah Ryder.
Ken Simpson changed pitchers, from older daughter (Kaia) to younger daughter (Nicola), who is a harder thrower. And she struck out Ryder to end the inning – and Yelm’s comeback bid.
The Tornados left 10 runners on base.
“We just didn’t get the hits to get the runs across,” Yelm coach Lindsay Walton said.
The Simpson sisters reached base in all eight combined at-bats, and drove in six of the team’s 10 runs.
“We managed to pull it off,” Ken Simpson said.
Garfield ace pitcher Kaia Simpson talks about her team winning Class 3A softball title: pic.twitter.com/6hK68PmW89