A-K Valley Senior Spotlight: Burrell’s AJ McLafferty

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Monday, May 20, 2024 | 10:48 AM


Stealing bases is a small chess match in the middle of a baseball game between the pitcher and the runner.

Burrell senior center fielder AJ McLafferty enjoys the mental game as the Bucs leadoff hitter.

“I have fun when I’m on base,” McLafferty said. “There’s a lot of little things that go into stealing a base, and I love it.”

Leading the team with 16 stolen bases in the regular season, McLafferty opened up about what all goes into swiping a bag and the cat and mouse game between runner and pitcher.

“It’s about reading the pitcher, counting how many seconds he’s holding for, if he has a slide step or if he tips his pitches.” McLafferty said. “Another aspect I never overlook is the catcher, who may have a cannon for an arm.”

McLafferty, who has been caught stealing just once this season, is disappointed he never reached his goal of 25 steals this year.

“I came up short, which was unfortunate because I knew I had it in me,” he said.

The most bases McLafferty has stolen in one season was last summer for the Rawlings Tigers Baseball Organization, a travel team. He stole 34 and is looking for more.

“This summer, I’ve set my sights on 45 stolen bases. I know I can reach that,” he said.

McLafferty’s goals coming into the season were to bat .350, have fewer than 10 strikeouts, steal 25 bases, throw out two runners from any base, make a diving catch, make the playoffs and win the section.

He fell short in his base stealing, but he’s batting .404, with a .533 on-base percentage and a 1.026 OPS with 11 RBIs and has struck out only nine times.

In the field, McLafferty only threw out one runner, made three diving catches and has a fielding percentage of .956.

The Bucs finished second in Section 3-3A with an 8-4 record and a 9-7 overall record. Even though they fell short of winning the section, they entered the WPIAL playoffs as a team to watch.

“Last year’s preliminary playoff loss still haunts me,” said McLafferty. “It definitely gave the team a reason to put a foot on the gas pedal for this year. This is the first time in my high school career we’re going to the playoffs.”

McLafferty took a few minutes for a Senior Spotlight Q&A:

What’s most difficult about playing center field?

For me, the hardest part is reading a ball off the bat that’s straight at you on a line drive that looks like it could be over your head but might not be.

What are you looking to do as the leadoff hitter?

Get on base any way possible and hustle out any ball you hit. If you get on, it gives your teammates motivation, and hitting is a chain effect: One person hits, then everyone else will hit.

You’re pitching a bit more this year than in the past. How do you feel you’ve pitched this season?

I’m really proud for what I’ve gained on the mound compared with last year. I wasn’t confident on the mound last year, but I feel a lot more comfortable and look forward to the opportunity to pitch.

You tore the labrum in your left shoulder and had to have surgery. What happened?

It tore because I dislocated it too many times. I’m a righty, so fortunately it wasn’t my throwing arm. Recovery was a long stretch, four and a half months of no activity. I stayed on top of my physical therapy and my training to get back faster.

You’re committed to Saint Vincent for baseball. What do you plan on studying?

Sports management.

Coach Jay Miller said you’ve had a lot to tell your teammates about the recruiting process. What have you relayed?

I always tell the guys to expect the unexpected and do what their heart desires, not to be too narrow-minded when looking at schools and to open up their possibilities. I also told the guys to pick a school based on what they want to major in because it will pay their bills after they’re done with baseball.

Favorite high school memory?

When I was a scrawny 13- or 14-year-old freshman and started in center field for the varsity team.

Piece of advice you want to leave your teammates?

You’re going to lose more than you win in baseball. But you learn from it, take your failings and turn them into successes and that’s how you become a great player.

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