‘I got you’: How Kylie Griffin, Madi Young helped tranform UCA into a conference champion

Sophomore third baseman Kylie Griffin has been a key part of Central Arkansas’ 2023 ASUN regular-season championship team. Griffin, of Greenbrier, is batting .311 with 2 home runs and 21 RBI this season. (Photo courtesy UCA Athletics)

When you hear Kylie Griffin and Madi Young talk about one another, you'd assume that they have been friends for years.

When Young marries her high school sweetheart, University of Arkansas-Little Rock wrestler Triston Wills in June, Griffin will be right beside her as a bridesmaid -- a place you wouldn't expect of someone she met less than a year ago.

Off the field, the pair has become "like sisters". On it, they are locking down the left side of the infield and setting the table on offense for a University of Central Arkansas softball team ranked as high as No. 18 nationally.

"It's funny because from day one, we were always like 'We're literally sisters'," Young said. "From day one, it's just clicked, and I think that's what's helped us out on the field. I know what she's capable of, and she knows what I'm capable of."

UCA (36-9, 19-2 ASUN) secured its first regular season title in program history Sunday in its final conference road game, defeating Jacksonville State 4-3.

Young's first season as a Bear is more than halfway over. But if she has anything to say about it, there is plenty of softball left to play -- and that starts with today's matchup with Lipscomb.

"Sunday was almost bittersweet because it was their senior night. I was standing by [Griffin], and I was kind of tearing up and I was like, 'Wow, like we're here." Young said. ""We won the conference but it honestly wasn't really celebrated because we have higher expectations," Young said. "We were kind of like yeah, that's a stepping stone, but that's not really what we're wanting. Our goal is to make a regional and win that regional and go to a Super Regional."


Young was first put onto UCA Coach Jenny Parsons' radar when Butler (Kan.) Community College Coach Doug Chance sent her a text in the fall of 2021 to let her know he had a shortstop she might be interested in.

It took all of one play -- a throw on the run -- to pique Parsons' interest. By the next morning, UCA assistant coach Kayla Lucas was on the road to Kansas to scout the Derby, Kan. native in-person.

"When you find talent that's elite, you have to take opportunities to fill your roster with that talent. And that's what we did," Parsons said.

The redshirt junior's impact on the Bears has been noticeable on both sides of the ball. At the plate, she's second on the team with a .311 batting average, a .437 slugging percentage, 42 hits and 27 RBI.

On defense, Parsons said all you need to do is look at the pitchers' ERAs and you'll see the kind of impact Young's glove has had.

"You take a look at my pitchers' ERAs from last year to this year, and their ERAs are almost a whole point lower because of how well we play defense behind them," Parsons said. "Balls that get hit up the middle, that were base hits in the past, have not been base hits."

Griffin and Young's defense at third base and shortstop respectively has been crucial to UCA's success this season. Their success, and in turn part of UCA's, is built on a relationship that didn't exist this time last year.

"It's easy to play behind her, and it's easy to know where I'm supposed to be because it feels like we've been doing it since we were literally in kindergarten," Young said of Griffin.

Griffin said that as soon as they met, she knew Young was just what UCA needed to go to the next level.

"She is the greatest shortstop that I've ever had just the pleasure of being able to play beside," Griffin said. "But I think more importantly, when I look at Madi, I see someone who would run through a brick wall for any single person on this team, no questions asked. She plays with such a fire and a passion that you can't teach someone."

'Like a little water bug'

Griffin, affectionately referred to as "Zoomie" by most of her teammates, has as big a personality as you'll come by. And she's helped to keep things from getting too serious while UCA looks toward the postseason.

"She is definitely one of a kind and a goof and makes it fun," Young said. "There's never a stressful moment on the field when you look over and she's dancing. There's always entertainment."

With Young's defense to back her up, UCA positions Griffin in an aggressive spot in front of third base. While Young is the one making highlight plays, like a diving grab behind third base last two weeks ago against Liberty, she says she couldn't do that without the defense of Griffin in front of her.

"I can count probably five balls [this season] that just got right over her glove that I'm right there for. She'll just turn and be grinning at me, and I'm like 'I got you'," Young said. "... A lot of the plays that she makes get me to where I can play a little bit further behind and get those balls. So it's a lot to say about her, too. She's the best third baseman I've played with."

Griffin has hit second all season, one spot ahead of Young. And like Young, Griffin has 42 hits in 135 at-bats for a .311 batting average. She has eight extra-base hits, including two home runs. Griffin is fourth on the team with 21 RBI and an .801 OPS.

"She's a unique talent," Parsons said of Griffin. "Her drive, her want to be better, her want to be perfect is beyond reproach. She is tough, talented and fun to be around."

The sophomore from Greenbrier is unlike any other player on the roster, and according to Parsons, that's exactly what the Bears will need down the stretch if they hope to reach their first-ever super regional.

"She's like a little water bug. She never stops. She's all over the place," Parsons said. "Her energy gives us energy, you know? There's no fear with her or anybody. To have that energy around all the time, it's fun."

"The more relaxed [we are] and more fun we're having, the better we're playing. So we can tell how we're going to do just based on how humorous it is in the dugout or how we feel walking to the field."

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