By SCOTT JACKSON
Courier sports writer
---- — OTTUMWA — The good news for Tara McClure-Isable is that she’s been here before.
As the Cardinal High School alum prepares to be inducted into the Lousiville Cardinal athletic hall-of-fame on next weekend, McClure-Isable can take some comfort in the knowledge she’s been through these kind of ceremonies before. It was just a couple years ago, in fact, that McClure-Isable returned to southern Iowa to be the first softball player inducted into the Indian Hills Athletic Hall-of-Fame.
That doesn’t mean that it won’t still be hard for McClure-Isable to find all the right words to describe what an honor it is to, once again, be honored as the first softball player to be honored by two different schools. Like she did back in February of 2012 at IHCC, McClure-Isable will be the first softball player to be honored by the University of Louisville’s Athletic Hall-of-Fame on Jan. 11.
“The biggest struggle is I’ve got so much to say and so many people to thank,” McClure-Isable said. “I’ll probably still get tongue-tied. The biggest problem I always have is to figure out how to thank all the people I need to thank and all the people that have been such a huge part of my life.
“I just hope I get the opportunity, and the time, to do it.”
Breaking new ground with the Louisville softball program is nothing new for McClure-Isable, who chose the first-year program as her first home-away-from-home. After playing her two years of college at nearby Indian Hills, McClure-Isable had more than just a change of scenery to adapt to when she joined the Cardinals.
Besides being away from her home in Wapello County for the first extended time in her life, McClure-Isable was in a unique situation of being part of a program that had no history whatsoever. Louisville’s inaugural softball season coincided with McClure-Isable’s junior season.
“I remember walking around campus and they were talking about all the state-of-the-art things the school was going to build for the program eventually,” McClure-Isable recalled. “At the time, though, we didn’t even have a place to practice yet. We had to work out on the baseball diamond
“There were six junior college transfers, including myself, and 11 freshmen that were on that first team. To take all these girls that didn’t know each other and get them to mesh together was something special.”
The Cardinals were 36-26 in their first season and 40-26 in the second with McClure-Isable leading the way. In Louisville's inaugural season, McClure-Isable posted the second-lowest ERA in single-season history for a Louisville pitcher with a 0.96 ERA followed by the third-best ERA single-season a year later with a 1.16 ERA.
For McClure-Isable, it was the talent that surrounded her on Louisville’s first two softball teams that allowed her to pitch so effectively.
“Once we actually got into practice and we started working together that first season, you could see that the talent we had was certainly capable,” McClure-Isable said. “Coach (Sandy) Pearsall recruited the best she could for that first-year team. To me, she got the best players she needed to start that team.”
Pearsall just completed her 14th season as the head coach of Louisville softball. After building the program from scratch in 2000, Pearsall has guided the Cardinals to 553 wins, five conference championships, 10 consecutive NCAA regional appearances and served as a host site in 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2013.
For McClure-Isable, having a coach like Pearsall made it an easier choice to join a start-up softball program at Louisville.
“She knew exactly what she needed and what kind of person she wanted to be part of that team,” McClure-Isable said. “Even to this day, Coach Pearsall will keep up with us. She’ll always email you and, if going to (Louisville) games to this day, she’ll always make conversation with you.
“She’s always been in her players’ lives. For me, that was a big decision for me and my parents at the time. She always showed that interest in the person, not just the player. That made a big difference.”
The decision for McClure-Isable to travel away from home for the first time back in 2000 led the Batavia native to the state where she would create a life of her own. McClure-Isable currently resides with her own family in Bowling Green, Ky., which will make the trip back to Louisville much easier for ceremonies that will take place through the weekend starting next Saturday at 6 p.m. (EST) at the Brown & Williamson Club inside Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.
Like her last hall-of-fame induction, at Indian Hills, McClure-Isable plans on having all her family in attendance for all the ceremonies including being introduced during halftime on the Louisville men’s basketball game against SMU on Sunday, Jan. 12. This time, however, it’s her family from Iowa that will have to the lion’s share of the traveling to watch McClure-Isable be honored as a Hall-of-Fame intercollegiate softball player.
“I think my parents are already arguing over who’s driving,” McClure-Isable joked. “It sounds like I have a lot of people that will be coming down for the ceremony. It may be an even bigger group this time because it’s in Louisville. Kentucky is my home. It’s a great place to live.”
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