Glover taking the lead
All Grants Pass (Ore.) center fielder Tara Glover wanted was a chance.
In the bottom of the eighth inning in last year's Class 6A state softball finals, Grants Pass trailed rival Roseburg, 1-0. Glover, a sparkplug leadoff hitter, started off the inning with a walk and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt.
Then-junior Karleigh Prestianni followed with a single to center, and the speedy Glover took off. As she motored toward third, Grants Pass coach Tom Blanchard waved her home.
Glover arrived at the plate at the same time Roseburg catcher Tori Walker hauled in the ball, and the two met in a vicious collision. Walker somehow held onto the ball, Glover was called out and the Lady Cavers still trailed by a run.
Two batters later, though, Grants Pass tied it at one. That meant Glover would indeed get the chance she so desperately wanted. In the 10th inning, the game went to the international tiebreaker rule, under which each team starts the inning with a runner on second. After Roseburg failed to score in the top half of the inning, Glover began the bottom of the frame on second.
This time, she would not be denied. With two outs, then-senior Chelsey Chamberlain smacked a single to right, and Glover burned around third before sliding home with the winning run.
Grants Pass 2, Roseburg 1. The Lady Cavers had their first state title.
"I just knew I couldn't let myself get thrown out a second time," Glover says.
The game-winning run capped a season in which Glover earned Class 6A State Player of the Year honors by batting .442 with 46 runs scored, 12 doubles, five triples, five homers, 39 RBIs and 21 stolen bases in 21 attempts.
Tara Glover Favorites
- TV Show: "Full House"
- Movie: "Mean Girls"
- Musical Artist: Taylor Swift
- Athlete: Caitlin Lowe
Now a 5-foot-3 junior who has committed to Oregon, Glover is the state's top softball player as much for her ability to come through in the clutch as for her awesome talent.
"You can always depend on her," senior second baseman Cami Bennett says. "Whenever there is a tight situation, a tight game, you always want her up at bat."
Case in point: In the Class 6A state semifinals last year, Glover blasted a leadoff homer to spark a three-run first inning. The Lady Cavers never looked back en route to a 6-0 win. In the quarterfinals, she delivered the game-winning hit in the bottom of the ninth against Westview, the team that beat Grants Pass in the second round of the 2007 state playoffs.
Glover, who was named to the 2008 Under Armour All-America Game, has been delivering clutch plays ever since she picked up a bat at Grants Pass. During her freshman year, she had four hits, including the game-winning RBI single with two outs in the bottom of the 10th, in a regular season victory against North Medford. Then in her first playoff game, she drove in five to lead Grants Pass to a 10-0 win over Gresham in the first round.
"She's able to focus in even the highest of pressure situations," Blanchard says. "That's something you don't teach. That's what I admire the most about her because I've been around athletes my whole life and those athletes don't come around too often."
In last year's state championship, Glover struggled through an 0-for-4 day at the plate yet kept enough focus on the basepaths to score the game-winning run as Grants Pass snapped an 11-game losing streak to Roseburg.
"To have such a high-level player who had done it all during the season and to have her score the winning run, it was a fitting conclusion," Blanchard says.
Not only does her clutch play bail out her teammates, it also inspires them. "I think it makes us all better," senior catcher Emily Woolf says. "We all want to do as good as Tara is doing. It's amazing how [she] can have so much talent."
That talent has always been evident. Glover, who bats lefty but throws righty, earned Class 6A All-State first team honors as a freshman by batting .478 with 26 RBIs, 25 steals and an on-base percentage of .529.
"She's the best leadoff hitter in the state, bar none," Blanchard says. "It's so tough to get her out. And when you start a game against her, it can rattle a team sometimes."
Glover might rattle opponents, but when she's around her teammates she's anything but intimidating. While she knows when to be serious, she also realizes that having fun can be an escape from the daily pressures of being the best player on the state's best team. So whenever Glover isn't swinging a mighty stick, she's practicing her slapstick. She's even been known to poke fun at coaches, including Blanchard.
During a tournament last season, Glover and her teammates asked Blanchard's son, assistant coach Tommy, if they could go watch another game before they played. Tommy told them they "better wait until Dad gets back."
Soon after, Glover started referring to the elder Blanchard as Pops.
"She's definitely funny," Bennett says. "I wasn't surprised Tara said something like that. It helps us connect more as a team."
In addition to dominating on the diamond and cracking jokes in practice, Glover finds ways to connect with anyone she's around. Whether she's helping out daily as an aide in Blanchard's office or simply exuding her welcoming personality throughout the school day, Glover is always making her presence felt.
"She's one of the nicest people to be around," says assistant principal Clay Rounsaville, who previously coached the Grants Pass softball team for 10 years, including Glover's freshman season. "She's just a one-in-a-million kid. She truly is."
On and off the field.
Jon Mahoney covers high school sports for ESPN RISE Magazine.