A parent of a player at an opposing Super Essex Conference school decided to stop by today to watch Livingston take on Cedar Grove at Panther Park. This parent enjoys the game and understands some of the nuances that go into making a team successful.
By the time Livingston was getting ready to hit in the seventh inning, the parent just shook his head in amazement. The Lancers were up, 10-3, against a pretty good, albeit young, Cedar Grove squad.
“I guess this game is pretty much wrapping up,” the man said. “But let me watch Seattle Slew hit one more time.”
Seattle Slew, of course, is Livingston’s senior second baseman and two-time All State player, Kylie McLaughlin. So, when Slew, a right hander by genetics who hits lefty and redefines a slap hitter with her power and tremendous speed, reached safely for the third time on a ball that didn’t leave the infield, the man just smiled and said, “I guess she’ll be at second base in about 10 seconds, huh?”
True enough, McLaughlin stole second, but was left stranded there. Livingston went on to win the game, 10-3, to improve to 2-0 on the season.
McLaughlin, who will attend the University of Delaware this fall, but will probably not play softball, is excited about her senior year and her team, which will seek a third straight SEC, Essex County Tournament and state sectional championship.
“This team is different than last year in that we lost some key players,” she said. “But in a way, not a lot has changed. We play good defense and everyone (in the lineup) gets a good swing. When you put the ball in play, good things can happen.”
McLaughlin, the only daughter and middle child of Jill and Dave McLaughlin, certainly puts a charge into her at-bats. A lead off hitter, she started today’s game with what appeared to be a routine grounder to second base.
Only the Cedar Grove fans knew right away was going to happen.
As the hard hit ball was cleanly fielded by the second baseman, who would normally have a second to adjust and snap the throw, the Panther fans started yelling ‘throw it’. The ball beat McLaughlin, but by barely a step.
In her next at-bat, she beat the throw on what seemed to be a routine grounder, igniting a four-run rally in the third inning which gave Livingston (2-0) a 6-0 lead.
It was another example of never giving Livingston extra outs to work with.
For the past two years, Kylie excelled in centerfield, but this season, so far, has seen her playing at second base, with the graduation last spring of Rachel Wasilak, who now plays at William Paterson University.
“Actually, second base is where I played when I first started to learn the game as kid,” McLaughlin said. “I never moved from that position until, really, two years ago, when I started playing center. So, playing here is fine. I like it.”
Slew made a tremendous play in the sixth inning when she grabbed a hard grounder to the back hand, ran to second for a force play, then threw on to first for a double play.
Her chemistry with senior shortstop Sammi Rothenberger has made for a flawless exchange between the two on balls hit up the middle, and on potential double play combos.
The Seattle Slew moniker was attached to Kylie, by me, because of her speed and the ‘stud’ analogy that many high school coaches like to tag on a really good player.
The season is obviously very young. Livingston has some big tests coming up with a game against Pascack Hills on Saturday at the IHA Tournament, then a pair of road games against perhaps the two best teams in the SEC American Division, Nutley (on April 7) and Mount St. Dominic (April 9).
Livingston coach Jason Daily is taking it one game at a time, and for that matter, one inning at a time.
“We struggled in the pre-season, but once these kids got outside, things started to come together,” said Daily, noting the exceptionally cold weather in March made it tough to get much work outdoors. “There are a lot of moving parts to this team and we’ll be adjusting things as the year goes on.”
Livingston’s win over Cedar Grove improved their record to 37-1 in SEC and Essex County Tournament action since the start of the 2012 season. The success of the program hasn’t gone unnoticed but opposing coaches, either.
“Look, let’s be honest, what Jason does with that program is incredible,” said Nutley coach Luann Zullo. “For four years (2010-2013) they had (Jess) Peslak, one of the most dominant pitchers we’ve ever seen. She’s graduated, but look at the way they’ve adjusted. They’re just so well coached.”
NOTES: Livingston, Mount St. Dominic and Nutley are all 2-0 in SEC American action while West Essex and Cedar Grove are 1-1. Caldwell, West Orange and Montclair have started the season 0-2.
Next week will provide a much closer look at the teams as they’ll begin a Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule.
In the SEC Liberty Division, Bloomfield is off to a 2-0 start while Columbia defeated Newark Academy and Verona improved to 2-1 (1-1 in the league) by blanking Glen Ridge in games played today.
Cedar Grove is slated to host Verona tomorrow in a cross over contest at Panther Park.