Eric Utto-Galarneau remembers when he first took his only daughter, Grace, to a Hoquiam ballfield in the early 2000s to learn the game of fastpitch. Grace recalls the details just as vividly.
Consistent swings-and-misses of the bat and the ball on a tee, even spinning around in a 360, didn’t deter a young Grace, then just 4 years old. Father and daughter laughed, but daughter kept on swinging.
“I was determined to hit the ball correctly,” she said.
The never-give-up mentality is instilled into the now-Timberline High School senior do-everything player. Coach Charles Porche plans to start her at shortstop this season after splitting time at third base and pitcher a season ago.
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There’s nothing graceful about Utto-Galarneau’s swings, either. Since she and her family moved to Lacey from Aberdeen in 2013, she’s been all power for the Blazers (.539 batting average, 60 RBI in 2014).
And that power started at an early age in those sessions with Dad.
“She played like a boy,” Eric Utto-Galarneau said.
She’s a grip-it-and-rip-it-type hitter, batting in the No. 3 slot for a second consecutive season.
And count on the RBI machine to drive in runs. Porche is unable to confirm where Utto-Galarneau’s 60 RBIs last spring rank in the history books, but he knows it’s up there.
“It’s a phenomenal number,” Porche said. “She’s very aggressive at the plate.”
There’s no secret to driving in runs, Utto-Galarneau said. When runners are on base, her at-bat approach stays the same: calm, cool, collected.
“I stay relaxed and I don’t think of anything,” she said. “My dad has always told me, ‘Stay relaxed up there, and you’ll do good.’ ”
Dad’s been right.
While Division I ball could’ve been an option for a player who blasted eight home runs as a junior to help lead Timberline to the 3A bi-district playoffs, Utto-Galarneau picked NAIA Corban University in Salem, Oregon, which recruited her as a utility player. She said she’s comfortable with eight of the nine on-field positions — catcher is a work in progress — and that confidence to play everywhere came from wanting to learn more about the game.
“If Charles threw me back there,” she said of playing catcher, “I’d try my hardest.”
It’ll need her offense more than ever as the program joins the highly competitive 4A Narrows League, featuring teams with an abundance of talent and playoff experience.
Her and senior catcher Megan Porche (signee with Holy Names in Oakland), the coach’s daughter, plus sophomore pitcher Brooklyn Taylor-Sparks are cornerstones of what otherwise is a young Blazers team.
But that hard work and determination, what Utto-Galarneau’s ever known, is instilled into her underclassmen teammates, too.
“I see it because I’ve been there before,” she said. “Playing high-level ball all my life and looking up to other girls, and now it’s my turn to have the younger girls look up to me.”