LACEY — It’s one of the most incredible stories in state softball tournament history, and Garfield High School’s program capped it with a finish made for fairy tales.
It became the first Seattle Public Schools team to win a state softball title with a 10-4 victory over Yelm on Saturday afternoon at a soggy Regional Athletic Complex in Thurston County. The Bulldogs had never been to the state softball tournament before two seasons ago; they’d never won a state game until last year.
On Saturday, standout senior Kaia Simpson was celebrating with the hefty Class 3A state championship trophy, alongside her sophomore sister, her father (who is Garfield’s coach) and the rest of her teammates. This is four years after she could have gone to other Seattle schools — but she chose Garfield.
“She wanted to be here and be part of the academic scene and make a difference,” Garfield coach and Kaia’s father, Ken Simpson, said.
Then he started choking back tears as he fumbled through his next words.
“But I tell ya, I never dreamed it would end like this,” he said. “It’s pretty awesome.”
This was a Simpson symphony.
Kaia, the UC-San Diego signee, and her younger sister, Nicola, combined to go 7 for 7 at the plate with six RBI. Kaia pitched the first 5 2/3 innings with eight strikeouts before Nicola entered and struck out the final four batters she faced, including a two-out K to end the top of the sixth with Yelm’s tying run at the plate.
Kaia Simpson finished Garfield’s four state tournament wins having pitched 26 2/3 innings with 51 strikeouts and three runs allowed over two days. She stepped to the circle for Saturday afternoon’s championship a few hours after leading the Bulldogs past Bonney Lake in the semifinals for a nine-inning 4-0 win against UW-bound Brooke Nelson, the state’s career strikeouts leader (1,194). There was a 45-minute delay for the title game because of rain.
“We were generally seen as the underdog team because we’re an inner-city team,” Kaia Simpson said. “We had to prove ourselves over and over again and we continued to do that and that’s why we’re here.
“It’s kind of just, I can’t even form the words. I’m just so excited. We’ve worked so hard for this. This team worked so hard to get here. I’m just so happy.”
Five years earlier, Ken Simpson said a college coach from a Power Five program (he didn’t want to say who), recommended that Kaia not play for Garfield, saying she’d be better off working on her own than be subject to the Bulldogs’ downtrodden program. Garfield had won seven games over the previous four years, combined.
There’s reasons why it’s so difficult for inner-city schools to succeed in softball. Like some other sports, it’s become increasingly year-round with costly offseason programs that some around Garfield’s community can’t afford. Ken Simpson said most of the players in his starting lineup Saturday weren’t year-round softball players.
One school had a helicopter pick up some players to take them to prom after a tournament game Friday. Simpson can hardly afford to pay for game balls to practice with, he said.
Garfield did benefit from a $5,000 grant from the Seattle Mariners, which Ken Simpson said was key.
“We have no money,” he said, not speaking literally. “So that grant was absolutely fantastic because it let me go out and buy basic things like doughnuts and game balls and things we were struggling to have if I didn’t buy them myself. Our uniforms were purchased through that and the girls’ fundraising.”
He said they had three lockdowns in a span of a month and last year they had to run off the field into their school because police were yelling “take shelter, take shelter” over megaphones with an active shooter nearby.
“But this team has rallied around all of that,” Ken Simpson said. “Practice cut short? It doesn’t matter. We’re coming back stronger. We’re working harder. This team has overcome so much that most teams will never deal with. I’m just incredibly proud of them. Not only of Garfield and this group of girls, but for Seattle Public Schools. It’s just unbelievably fantastic.”
In the third/fourth-place game, Snohomish beat Mountain View of Vancouver 11-4.