Stacia Jackson may not be unhittable, but Spring Valley’s freshman ace pitcher really knows how to keep hitters off-balance.

With a vast array of pitches, including a wicked knuckleball and an extremely effective rise ball, Jackson basically put the Timberwolves on her back and carried them to the school’s first Class AAA state softball championship Thursday.

Now that’s not the reason for Jackson’s back injury. That came as a result of an ankle injury, which required her to use more of her upper body to pitch and hit.

Regardless, Jackson played through the pain on the state’s grandest stage. She willed her team to victory and displayed the heart and determination of a champion.

“She’s extremely tired. Her back is hurt. She has knots on her spine,” Spring Valley coach Stacey Rule Mabry said. “She really was injured, but she was playing 100 percent hard. She is one tough cookie. She gives 100 percent for her team. She doesn’t want to give up. She doesn’t want to let her team down for any reason.”

In three games at the state tournament, Jackson allowed eight total hits and one unearned run. The right-hander struck out 33 batters and walked only three in 21 innings.

Jackson surrendered six hits, fanned 20 hitters and walked two in a pair of meetings against East. But the Bees fared a lot better during the second contest. Jackson dominated the first game.

“(Wednesday) going into it, I think we were a little nervous,” Rachel Filius said. “We heard so much about her, and I think that got to us. We took ourselves out of the game mentally more than she did.”

Filius figured her out in the championship game, smacking three hits to left field. Alli Mayle, Ashley Morris and Brittany Zivkovic each singled once off Jackson. Morris also drew the only two walks Jackson issued against East.

“She has an awesome rise ball,” Filius said. “(Thursday) it was still working, but we learned to lay off it. We all talked about it, decided what we felt was best and waited for the right pitch.”

Cari Baker and Leesa Jackson were the only Bees not retired by a strikeout. Neither reached base safely against Jackson, though.

“We felt like we could hit her,” Baker said. “(Wednesday) night we hit her, not real well, but we were at least foul-tipping the ball.

“And then (Thursday) we were really focused because we knew she threw a good rise ball. We knew to watch out for that. I think we just focused on her pitches and helped each other out.”

Just like every other team in the state, East will have three more years to solve Jackson.

“We’ll try to play another tough schedule,” East coach Chuck Fluharty said, “see the best pitchers we can, and maybe we’ll see her again next year.”

Senior Salute

With the conclusion of every season, the loss of a senior class usually follows. And both coaches addressed just that following the title game Thursday evening.

Four Bees graduated Friday night — Cari Baker, Leesa Jackson, Diana Ruggiero and Brittany Zivkovic — not only from the high school, but also from the winning tradition that is East softball.

“Every senior is special to this team,” Fluharty said. “They’ll be missed greatly. They all did their job. They all worked hard. They all led by example. We’re going to miss them.”

Spring Valley loses just one senior in Jessica Bailey, who played first base and had the game-winning RBI single in the Timberwolves’ 1-0 win over East Wednesday night. And there was a good chance she missed her graduation on Thursday night following Spring Valley’s first-ever state title.

“It depends on how fast we get back and if any police stop us,” Mabry joked after Thursday’s 2-1 win. “Jessica Bailey is an amazing athlete. Every one of the girls will miss her,” Mabry said. “She was a great role model. She was a great leader. She gave up her graduation to be here.”

As for the Bees’ losses, there will be some big shoes to fill as always.

Zivkovic provided stability, range and a strong arm in center field. Baker could play anywhere she was needed, but that place was catcher this season. Ruggiero battled four years to finally earn a starting job at third base. And Jackson enjoyed her first varsity season in left field.

“It’s going to be hard losing them. They’re like part of the family,” Filius said. “It won’t be easy filling their spots. Hopefully, we’ll work through it like this year. We want to make it back here again.”

Glass Beware

Every now and then, you see it. A foul ball finds a car and inflicts pain on the body with dents.

During Thursday morning’s rematch between East and Musselman, two glass windows were broken. And while it is rare to have one incident of that nature, having it happen twice in the same half-inning and the Applemen batting was definitely a sight to see.

The first happened to the side window on a minivan. The second time occurred on an adjacent trailer where the umpires would get situated before and after games.

Guess that’s just the price you pay for wanting a close parking spot near the action.

E-mail Andrew Manzo at

Recommended for you