The spotlight has followed Jackson Young before — just not as doggedly as it will Friday.
Young, a senior right-hander, is expected to be the starting pitcher for third-seeded Franklin College, which plays second seed La Verne (California) in the opening game of an NCAA Division III regional in Birmingham, Alabama.
The Grizzlies (33-11) captured the fourth Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament championship in program history over the weekend.
“I’m absolutely pumped,” said Young, a 2019 Center Grove graduate and one of five former Trojans on coach Lance Marshall’s roster. “Being able to go to something like this, it’s what we worked for all offseason.
“Just seeing all the hard work come together is an awesome feeling.”
Clearly, Young put in his share in order to become the best possible version of himself with a baseball in his grip.
He is 8-0 this season with 72 strikeouts and only 12 walks in 81 1/3 innings. Young’s career record since the start of the 2021 season is a dazzling 17-2.
“Jackson transferred in as a third baseman, and as a pitcher,” Marshall said. “He just continues to work, and I’ve never seen anyone more dedicated to his craft.
“His teammates look at him as a mentor and as a leader. He’s made an impact way beyond himself. Always happy. Always positive. Just loves being around the game.”
Young started his college career at Trine University in Angola, but in time felt it wasn’t a good fit. He transferred to Franklin College after the first semester and contributed in four of the eight games the Grizzlies played during the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign.
In his brief time at Trine, Young played in the outfield. Once at Franklin College, he split time between playing third base and aiding the pitching staff as a reliever.
Having not thrown a pitch since high school, Young was surprised to find himself warming up in the bullpen during the season opener, a home game against Manchester, at the start of his sophomore season.
He pitched three innings of relief, allowing two hits and two runs, in the team’s 12-7 loss. Young eventually evolved into a starter as a junior and has been even more impressive in that role.
“I came into college anticipating to be a position player,” Young said. “I really just attribute it to coach Marshall’s trust in me. It gives me confidence to go out there and give my best for him.”
One of the less-heralded aspects of the Grizzlies’ success is having not one outstanding starting pitcher, but two. Sophomore Matt Johnson, also a right-hander, is 6-1. The duo has combined to make 24 starts this season.
“I don’t know if I have a better relationship with any pitcher on the staff than Matt,” Young said. “We talk about mechanics, and we bounce ideas off each other. We put our egos aside because we’re focused on the big picture for the team.”
Young’s pitching arsenal includes a fastball, slider and changeup. Upon arriving at Franklin College, he topped out on the radar gun at 79 miles per hour, but this season he has peaked at 90.
“Jackson pounds the strike zone. He has a lot of life, a lot of movement, on his fastball,” Marshall said. “All three of his pitches are plus pitches at our level. When he has all three of them working, it’s fun to watch.”
No better time than this weekend.
IF YOU GO
NCAA Division III regional
Where: Birmingham, Alabama
When: Friday through Sunday
Teams: Franklin College (33-11), Birmingham Southern (37-9), La Verne (28-15), Lewis & Clark (30-12)
Format: Double elimination