As she was enjoying a wonderful evening at the 55th Men of Essex Dinner on May 15, Livingston’s Kylie McLaughlin was already thinking about her team’s Essex County Tournament game on May 17, as well as the rest of the season, which is quickly winding down.
McLaughlin, a junior, was being honored by the Men of Essex as its Softball Player of the Year. And while the affable junior centerfielder was having fun with her family, coaches and friends, any mention of softball quickly changed that smile to a tunnel vision look.
“All season long, we’ve had the target on our backs,” McLaughlin said. “And that’s fine. We had a really good season last year (Livingston finished 29-1 and won the SEC, ECT and state sectional championships) and most of that team is back this year. So we know teams will give us their best and it’s up to us to keep that intensity and focus.”
A familiar scene with Kyle McLaughlin taking off after getting a hit.
McLaughlin is Livingston’s lead off batter, a modern-day blur, if you will, on the base paths.
Perhaps Nutley High parent Harry Anderson, whose daughter Carly is an excellent pitcher for the Raiders, described McLaughlin’s trip around the bases best. In a game against Nutley, the Lancers had the bases loaded with two outs when McLaughlin stepped to the plate on April 24.
“She hits a ball over the third baseman’s head and it slices toward the left field line,” Harry Anderson recalled in mock horror. “Our leftfielder gets to the ball in good shape, and I look over to see what’s going on and Kylee is at third already. It was unbelievable. She scored standing up.”
McLaughlin runs like Seattle Slew and hits with power, even if she’s batting from her unnatural left-handed side of the plate. In the outfield, she glides to balls in the gap.
“She’s just a tremendous athlete,” Livingston coach Jason Daily said. “She runs well, fields her position and has a great eye at the plate.”
McLaughlin also plays defense for the Livingston soccer team in the fall. She admits being ‘on the fence’ about her college plans regarding athletics.
“Academically, I’ve already begun the process of looking at schools,” McLaughlin said. “I’d like to major in Criminal Justice and maybe work in Forensics. But I’m not sure what I will do with playing sports at the next level. Right now, I’m just focused on what’s ahead for this softball season.”
Her personality is infectious. When asked about her running speed, she began her answer by referencing her ‘younger days’, which prompted a response from assistant softball coach, Dave Mead, who was sitting nearby at the dinner.
“Younger days?” Mead said. “When was that? You’re 12 years old, when were you younger? Last week?”
McLaughlin, laughing, quickly shot back, “I’ll have you know I’m 17!”
And so it goes. A personality which defines a well grounded teenager, a product of a wonderful set of parents with a burning desire to succeed.
When asked if last year’s loss to Hunterdon Central in the Group 4 semifinal still lingered, she was quick to respond.
“Yes, it’s there,” McLaughlin said. “It makes us want to do even better this season. I think we’re starting to play pretty well. (Livingston is 19-3 heading into Friday’s semifinal with Bloomfield). We won a tough conference championship. Now, we’re getting ready for Bloomfield and we have a lot of respect for them. They’ve got some really good hitters.
“We feel good with Jess (Peslak) pitching. She’s so tough out there. And players like Alexa (Altcheck), Jazzy (Pignatello), Rachel (Wasilak), Marina (Lombardi) and Sammi (Rothenberger) have been tremendous. We’re looking forward to the rest of the season.
And maybe, on June 8, the day of the Group championships in Toms River, and also a day when a horse could win a Triple Crown at Belmont Park (just like Seattle Slew in 1977), Livingston and McLaughlin will be savoring a final championship in 2013.