Sydney McKeown has been the leadoff batter for the Corona del Mar High softball team for three years, and that's not by accident.
The lefty is known as a "slapper," something that's common in softball. The name for it is easy to understand. McKeown slaps at the ball and sprints to first, trying to get on base any way she can and maybe even steal a base.
"It's really an advantage to the lefties, since we're already on the other side of the plate, closer to first," McKeown said. "Once you're going in motion, that also gives you better momentum to be faster. You kind of have to be really fast to be a slapper."
McKeown used these things to her advantage, but she also put in the work. Nobody in the Pacific Coast League hit better than McKeown this year. Few girls in the country could make that claim, either.
For her breakout season, McKeown is the 2013-14 Daily Pilot Newport-Mesa Dream Team Player of the Year.
She batted .662, which was 36th in the state according to Maxpreps.com, and led CdM with 24 runs scored and 17 stolen bases. But aside from the numbers, she also showed leadership, continuing to pitch even though she no longer does so in travel-ball.
McKeown was 3-3 with a 1.90 earned-run average, which was third in the league.
CdM won just a single game last year. This year, though the Sea Kings extended to a 60-game league losing streak, they won nine overall games.
It was easy to see why second-year CdM Coach Carly Smith called McKeown "a coach's dream."
"She was extremely dependable," Smith said. "She's the one you hoped was coming up in the lineup. Even if she didn't get a hit, she was always on base. That kid was crazy this year. Absolutely amazing."
McKeown, who earned first-team All-Pacific Coast League status for a second straight year and is also a two-time Dream Team selection, said she didn't focus too much on her eye-popping numbers. To her, they were the result of hard work put in with her Firecrackers travel-ball coaches, Tony Rico and Jeff Blanco.
"It didn't really hit me how good that is until I noticed my previous season, when I hit [.368 in league]," McKeown said. "That's like double. It didn't even occur to me that I was getting on so much; I was just doing it."
What McKeown was doing was being a more-than dependable bat in a CdM lineup that dealt with a lot of issues, from Amanda Penna's torn labrum to Samantha Flores' arm injury to Kelly Owen's mononucleosis. And cleanup hitter Brooke Franson, a freshman who was the team's only other travel-ball player, was diagnosed with a fractured pelvis right before league began and missed the rest of the season.
"Right when the season started, everyone just got hurt all at once," McKeown said. "We had like 10 girls who could play."
But McKeown stuck it out, and people in the area took notice. Newport Harbor Coach Russell Hartman, who resigned after the season, is one person who's happy he doesn't have to face McKeown anymore.
"My vote for best player would be for Sydney as well," Hartman said in an email. "She always pitches us tough, but aside from that we can't figure out how to keep that girl off the bases. If I wasn't sitting in the opposite dugout I would've really enjoyed watching her play."
McKeown, who played recreational softball at Newport-Mesa Girls' Softball (then called Pacific Coast Girls' Fastpitch) until she was 10, has a busy summer of travel-ball planned. On Thursday she was en route to a tournament in Oregon, hoping to help her Firecrackers squad qualify for nationals in Huntington Beach in late July. She said there are also tournaments planned in Colorado, Chicago and San Diego.
The high school season, though, also was very satisfying to McKeown.
"I was really surprised," she said. "A lot of our girls weren't that experienced. I don't know how, but we did so much better than last season."
McKeown definitely had a lot to do with it.