MEDFORD — From the first time he strapped on a facemask as a pint-sized Little Leaguer, Carter Glick has thought of himself as a catcher first, albeit one who also happened to know his way around the pitcher's mound if the need arose.
But unique circumstances, a little chance and a lot of success over the last six months have conspired against this perception, forcing the Ashland High senior-to-be to consider another possibility — that maybe he had it backward all along.
That's because the strong-armed workhorse who spent most of the spring protecting the plate for the Ashland High baseball team has been stellar on the hill all summer, and tonight Glick will try to take the next big step in what has been a rapid transformation as he's scheduled to start for the Medford Mustangs in their American Legion AAA state tournament opener.
"I was not expecting it at all," said Glick of his switch from part-time catcher to staff ace. "Coming into the Mustangs season I was thinking I was going to be catching. But I'm still improving, and I'm really ready for (tonight's) start."
The host Mustangs (28-17), who will be going for state title No. 12, face the Columbia Gorge Hustlers (15-7) of The Dalles in the final game of the first round tonight at 7 o'clock, with the winner slated to face either the Portland Eastside Barbers or the DeMarini Dirtbags of Salem in a second-round game Thursday night.
The double-elimination, eight-team tournament, which also includes Medford's Area 4 rival Grants Pass, wraps up with the championship game Sunday. Every game will be played at Medford's Harry & David Field.
Glick's move to the Mustangs' pitching rotation didn't blind-side anybody who saw him play for Ashland. In the spring, he quickly proved to be a standout catcher for the Grizzlies, using his rocket right arm to keep opposing baserunners honest. In the early going, he was also inserted as a relief pitcher, eating up an inning here and an inning there in order to save the arms that were expected to carry Ashland in the games that really mattered. Glick was so effective, however, that it quickly became apparent he deserved more innings. Trouble was, he was by far the best catcher on the roster and, well, an arm can only take so much.
So Glick continued to excel behind the plate, taking the mound only in spot duty, mostly as a reliever. In his most impressive performance, he held North Medford, the top-ranked 6A team in the state, to two unearned runs in six innings, paving the way for a Grizzly win. Watching that game from the opposing dugout was North Medford assistant coach and Mustangs head coach Nate Mayben,
"I saw something there," Mayben said of that performance. "The kid pitched really well against a decent team, so going into the summer we kind of knew with Carter that we might want to use him from time to time to fill innings, and then who knows."
Glick finished the spring season 3-0 with a 0.95 ERA in 22 innings, the best ERA on the team among players with at least 13 innings of work. But even with those impressive numbers, he figured his role on the Mustangs would center on his ability to receive pitches and throw runners out, not pitch. And he may have been right about that if not for a couple surprise moves that left the Mustangs shorthanded in the pitching department. In the span of about two weeks, Ashland's Jamie Flynn and North Medford's Colton Westfall, projected as possibly the top two pitchers on the staff, decided to leave the team to play for the Medford Rogues and North Medford Mavericks, respectively.
That opened the door for Glick, and the right-hander stormed through.
Relying on a fastball that's been clocked at 87 mph, a nasty "slurve" and a pretty good change-up, Glick has quickly worked his way up Medford's chain of command and enters the state tournament as perhaps the most important arm on the roster. Glick is 5-1 with a 2.22 ERA with three complete games in 41 innings. That makes Glick one of the most reliable pitchers on a staff that's been rock solid all summer — the Mustangs have a team ERA of 2.90.
"Obviously, his role changed a lot when we lost a couple pitchers that we thought we were going to have," Mayben said. "But even if that wouldn't have happened he still would have been one of our top guys.
"Luckily, he's been willing and he's accepted that role, and it's been an awesome gift for us that he's been willing to take that role and run with it."
Mayben said Glick's success is a product of his consistency.
"He throws his fastball for strikes and he can locate them in and out," Mayben said, pointing out that Glick enters the postseason with a two-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio. "And the thing I really like about Carter, he does have that catcher's mentality. He's a bulldog out there."
Glick said the switch knocked him out of his comfort zone initially, but he has since come to relish the pressure that comes with starting on the mound.
"Before I start pitching it's a little nerve racking," he said. "I used to close out games, so it's a little different. But once I get out there, after that first pitch, everything goes away and I know that as long as I keep the ball down I'll be fine."
Now, Mayben and company are hoping Glick will be fine at least one more time tonight and help the Mustangs stay out of the losers bracket. The odds of that happening appear to be at least decent. Medford has had its ups and downs, but enters the postseason on a hot streak, having won eight of its last 10 games.
The Mustangs have a reputation to live up to as well. Besides the 11 state and four regional titles, they've advanced to the state championship game seven years in a row. On the flip side, Medford hasn't won a state title since 2008.
They seemed like a longshot after losing Flynn and Westfall early in the season, but Mayben believes this year's Mustangs have a legitimate shot at ending that drought.
"There were a couple guys there that we were planning on getting a lot of innings out of and doing a lot of damage for us, but it's been amazing," Mayben said. "About halfway through the year, (assistant coach Paul White) and I looked at each other in the dugout and I said, 'You know, we're going to be just fine.'"