The junior is a big reason the Timberwolves are 21-1 and headed to state as she’s been a force on the mound and at the plate. She’s the Star Times softball player of the year.
After a sizzling freshman season, Iyanla Pennington began to melt under pressure.
And that was totally out of character for a player nicknamed “Ice” since grade school.
Pennington is back to her cool, calm, collected self — in the circle and at the plate — in leading Jackson High School to another Class 4A state softball tournament appearance, and a key reason the Timberwolves (21-1) have a chance to win it all.
The hard-throwing, harder-hitting junior sports an 18-1 record, 0.28 ERA and 235 strikeouts in 113 1/3 innings — including 29 in her past two games — while batting .548 with 16 extra-base hits and 26 RBI.
Pennington’s performance has earned her honors as The Seattle Times 2018 Star Times softball player of the year.
“Iyanla Pennington is a special athlete,” Jackson coach Kyle Peacock said. “She is a power hitter and a power pitcher. … She earns her nickname of Ice by staying cool under pressure.”
Truth be known, Iyanla (pronounced I-YAWN-la, after inspirational speaker/lawyer/author Iyanla Vanzant) first got the nickname playing Little League, when she told teammates on a hot day she was bringing ice for the next practice.
She especially lived up to it at the plate as a freshman, when she was mostly Jackson’s designated player with Sophie Frost (now at Cal State Fullerton) handling the bulk of the pitching. Pennington popped eight home runs and led the team in RBI with 31 as the Timberwolves placed fourth at state.
The power surge seemed unplugged for most of last season, with just three home runs and 29 RBI, and she struggled early on — although by the end of the year she was batting .463 — 100 points better than her freshman average.
“Last year, I put a lot of pressure on myself to come out and do what I did the year before, which kind of brought me into a slump,” Pennington said. “I got out of it at the end of the season, but it fired me up for this year to stay more calm and not try so hard.”
Thus the even higher average, and the RBI total likely would inflate if not for her 18 walks, many of them intentional.
Pennington, who has committed to play softball for Coastal Carolina University in South Carolina, has been steadier in the circle, too, after going 18-5 last season with a 1.50 ERA and 190 K’s in 121 innings.
Catcher Sam Mutolo gets some credit for that.
“She is doing way better handling stressful situations with runners on and just calms down and executes very well,” Mutolo said, calling Pennington a great team leader.
“I don’t know where our team would be without her.”
Pennington’s one loss this season came against Lake Stevens, 3-1 — a team the Timberwolves had earlier beaten 2-1 — and cost them sole possession of the WesCo 4A championship. Emma Forney’s two-run, walkoff homer stung, and Jackson responded by outscoring the next five opponents 46-3.
“It definitely made us angry,” Pennington said. “I feel it also made us better in a way, not to take any team for granted, even though you’ve beaten them once.”
Ever the perfectionist, she stops short of saying she’s peaking at the right time.
“I feel I could do a little better hitting my spots every time instead of missing two or three times in a game, and when I do miss they (hitters) capitalize,” she said. “But I do feel as like I’m in a good position right now.”
Good and hungry. Last year’s 1-2 performance at state left a bad taste for the entire team, with all but two starters returning.
“We were disappointed,” Pennington said. “But it fired us up for this year and hopefully we’ll go a lot further. … Our goal is to go far as we can and try to maybe bring back some hardware, but definitely play to the point where we feel we gave it all on the field.”