Abby Sweet / Lantern Photographer
Nobel Prize-winning playwright George Bernard Shaw once said, “Youth is a wonderful thing,” a statement Ohio State softball coach Linda Kalafatis and her Buckeyes could agree with so far this season.
OSU has started at least two freshmen in 36 of their 40 games, including 19 games where it has started three or more freshmen. Kalafatis said it isn’t uncommon for as many as five freshmen to be in the game at any given time, depending on the situation.
Some coaches would have mixed feelings about playing so many young players in their first year of collegiate competition, but Kalafatis said she puts the best nine on the field and doesn’t worry too much about how they are classified.
“It’s the best players play, it doesn’t matter what class they are,” she said. “It just matters how productive they are, if they make adjustments, if they do what we ask of them and if they’re able to execute on offense and on defense. If we’re putting them in the lineup, it’s because we think they can.”
Outfielder Taylor Watkins is one of the players Kalafatis believes has been productive and has earned a regular place in the lineup. The freshman from Bonney Lake, Wash., has started 38 games in centerfield for the Buckeyes and is second on the team with a batting average of .361 from the leadoff spot.
Watkins said that while the transition from high school was not a big change for her, there was a noticeable difference.
“I don’t think it was that hard just because I played club and it was intense practices, so that prepared me for this,” Watkins said. “But it’s different coming from a high school team to college. It’s a lot more intense and the competitiveness is higher … but I like it.”
Freshman second baseman Maddy McIntyre has also played a key role, Kalafatis said. McIntyre, a California native, moved to second base this year after playing shortstop in high school, and has started 22 games there for the Buckeyes this season. She has a .943 fielding percentage and hit a walk-off, two RBI single to beat Dayton April 11 at Buckeye Field.
McIntyre said the biggest difference she’s noticed comes when the opposing teams are at the plate.
“For me, the pitchers kind of are the same. There’s not really any dominant pitching,” McIntyre said. “The difference is how every single hitter in the lineup is good, and on defense we have to be ready for everyone. You can’t take anyone lightly.”
Senior shortstop and captain Alicia Herron said she doesn’t really look at the girls on the field by their class rank, but more as one unit working together. She said she knew there were some good players joining the team this season and they have brought new energy while contributing to the team’s overall success.
“We knew we had a solid recruiting class and we were excited,” Herron said. “They came in right off the gun hot so it’s been fun. They’ve been working really hard for us and it’s been a good time.”