FOUR FRESHMEN WOULD start a majority of games that 2019 season – Gindlesperger in center, Klingaman at second, Young at short, and Schultz in the outfield and as the designated player. The team improved by nine victories – 24 to 33 – and by five in conference.
Long before Young would be described as “our rock,” by Gindlesperger, there was no guarantee she would start a game at short, never mind embark on a Cal Ripken-like hold on the position. Listed as “utility” on the roster, Young began as the third-string catcher, and played some outfield and both middle infield positions throughout the fall.
“It was chaos,” she said. “I was running around all practice and didn’t know what I was doing.”
The team was short on middle infielders, but second base felt awkward.
“The first day of practice, we were moving everybody around a little bit to see what it looks like,” Allister said. “And it became apparent that she was the best athlete on the team. Great hands, great feet, a great arm.
“We realized that she was going to be our best option at shortstop. And she wasn’t scared. A lot of the people have come into the Pac-12 … Wait, you want me to play where? That would be daunting to them. It wasn’t daunting to her. She has tremendous self belief and the work ethic to back it up.”
Merchant made Young her project. Incumbent shortstop Kristina Inouye shifted to third base and offered her support to the freshman who took her position.
“We believe in our ability to develop players,” Allister said. “If we get phenomenal athletes that maybe haven’t trained year-round, and they get in the system, they’re going to continue to improve. We believe we can do that.”
In their first game, against Bradley at the Kajikawa Classic at Arizona State, Schultz walked as a pinch hitter. Gindlesperger, at No. 2 in the order, walked and scored a run. Young had two hits – leading off the fourth with a single to ignite a three-run inning and singled in the seventh to help fuel a tiebreaking four-run rally in an 8-4 victory.
The improvement was profound. When Stanford beat Cal in Berkeley on March 24, 2019, it marked the first series won by Stanford in Pac-12 play in six years.
“We were all dancing because we won the series,” Schultz said. “And I looked over at Whitney Burks, a fifth-year senior first baseman who I played behind and really looked up to … and she was crying.
“To me, it was, yeah, we won a game. It felt…