Before she steps into the batter’s box, Damali Young is constantly talking to herself, reminding herself to put the ball in play, replaying the pitcher’s previous throws and remembering all of the hitting tips provided by her coaches, teammates and parents.
And when she finally does get herself in position, the senior right fielder for the Morgan State softball team wipes her mind clean.
“I think my key to success is you hear all types of criticisms and adjustments from your coaches and your parents and everybody about how you can swing, and I take all of those in mind up to the plate, and then as I step into the box, I pretty much remove all of it and I just watch [the pitcher’s] hips and swing freely,” Young (whose first name is pronounced DOM-uh-LEE) said Monday. “I think a lot of girls that are successful have that same mentality because when you get in the box and you have too much going on at one time, it can cloud your pitch selection and judgment and whatnot. So having a clear head in the box is one of the key points of success.”
Her philosophy is validated by the results. In an 8-0 shutout of Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference rival Delaware State on Sunday, Young went 2-for-4 and became the program’s all-time hits leader. With 172 hits, she passed former shortstop Tanisha Kemp’s previous record of 171.
Young eclipsed three other marks by Kemp — all-time runs scored (158), single-season hits (63) and single-season doubles (16). She also owns the career record for stolen bases with 119 (she has swiped 21 bases in 23 attempts this spring) and the single-season mark for at-bats with 154.
Young, 21, said she never envisioned this kind of success when she agreed as a junior in New Jersey to play for the Bears (13-21, 4-2 MEAC).
“Having the success I’ve had is kind of a complete shock to me,” she said. “I really get a lot of my hard-work ethic from my parents, and I think with that and a little God-given talent, I’ve really excelled further than I ever thought I would. So it’s really been an amazing ride, and it’s one that I’m glad that I chose.”
Characterizing the discovery of Young playing at a tournament in Salisbury in the summer of 2014 as “serendipitous,” coach Larry Hineline said Young started immediately as a freshman. But he said the staff sought to instill a sense of aggression in Young’s base-running and hitting abilities.
“We just wanted her to be more aware at the plate and to go after the ball,” he recalled. “She had a tendency to take more pitches, which with her athletic talent I wanted her to not take herself into where she was 0-1 or 0-2 all the time. After her freshman year, she got out of that. She was just a little too passive for us in the beginning. … She’s graduated from that.”
Of her 172 hits, Young has 34 doubles, 12 triples and nine home runs, but she said she relishes her role as a contact hitter.
“That’s always been my goal,” she said. “Every once in a while, I’ll hit a double or a triple or maybe even a home run. But honestly, they always come as a bit of a surprise because I really do swing for contact and to get on base so that I can steal and then someone can bring me in and we score and win the game.”
Young said putting the ball in play is especially important considering she is the team’s leadoff batter.
“Being the leadoff batter especially for away games, that’s the first amount of action that we’re getting for the day,” she said. “So I want to be able to set a winning tone for the day. So hopefully whoever leads off in the coming years after me is able to take on that role and do it even better than I did.”
Young said sharing her accomplishments with her sister, sophomore outfielder Jalian Young, has made the past two seasons even more worthwhile.
“It’s really a pleasure because coming to college for my first two years, you leave home, and you’re nowhere near your family or your high school friends,” she said. “It’s a huge adjustment, and I’ve played with my sister since the both of us were able to put on cleats. So leaving that and playing with a whole bunch of people that I didn’t know was hard at first. Being able to be rewarded with her coming on in my junior year has been probably the best experience of my career.”
Jalian (pronounced JOLLY-un), 20, said her sister has been a positive role model for her and her teammates.
“It’s good for me because it makes me want to work harder to be more like her on the field,” she said. “It’s also nice because people come up to me and ask, ‘Oh, are you Damali’s sister?’ and I can say yes and then they say, ‘Oh, she’s the one that broke all of these records.’ It’s nice to see and hear that her hard work is paying off and that people are recognizing her for it.”
In addition to her course load in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree in construction management and her commitment to softball, Damali Young is close to wrapping up an internship as an assistant project engineer for a construction management firm that requires her to wake up at 6 a.m. every weekday.
“It’s tiring, but it’s even more rewarding than I could have ever imagined,” she said. “So I enjoy doing it even if I would like to take more naps during the day.”
Hineline said searching for the next Damali Young is more difficult than it looks.
“She’s going to be a player that other players are going to measure themselves up to,” he said. “She’s going to be the one that people say, ‘What did Damali Young do? I want to be the next Damali Young.’”
Young said she hopes her records are rewritten by a future Bear.
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“It’s really humbling, and it’s an honor because I want this program to grow even more than in the years I was here,” she said. “If players can play better than me, then this program has absolutely no limits on how great it can become.”