OMAHA – It was scrimmage day on the diamond at Millard South, and Amari Laing had just finished playing in the junior varsity tune-up.
The plan was for Laing, a freshman at the time, to play JV softball that season.
The plan changed. A Patriot player was injured just before the varsity scrimmage, and coach Steve Kerkman needed an outfielder to fill in. Laing was told to get ready.
“All these girls, like Jayme Horan, Ronnie Foote, Damaris (Cuevas) … I’m like, ‘I’m not to their level at all,’” Laing recalls.
In her first at-bat that day, Laing smacked a home run. She muscled out another homer. No way she’d hit three, right?
Smack! There’s three!
“It was like, ‘Who is this kid?’” Kerkman said. “At that point, ‘Hey, this girl could run bases for us,’ but then it’s like, ‘Oh, geez.’”
Kerkman, after the game, told Laing she was going to be on varsity. Laing hasn’t stopped swinging.
She was a part-time starter as a sophomore before breaking out as a junior. Now Laing has taken on a bigger role as a senior. Not only is she impacting games with her speed, power and glove, she’s embracing a bigger leadership role while making sure to keep things fun.
Laing may very well be the most athletic softball player in the state. Kerkman says she’s one of the most athletic players he has ever coached, and that’s saying a lot considering the players who have come through the Patriot program, including most recently, Horan and Rylie Unzicker.
“She has some very natural athletic ability and I think a lot of it is untapped,” Kerkman said of the shortstop. “She just turned 17 in the beginning of August, so she could technically be a junior. The college that gets here could really develop her.”
Laing can change games with her legs. Just last week she tagged up from third base and scored on a pop fly that barely left the infield. Quick and strong hands give Laing her power.
The senior also is a track standout, qualifying in four events for last year’s state meet. Laing, who competes in the jumps, showed some incredible bounce by posting a vertical leap of 42” on a box jump over the summer at the school.
Oh, and she can juggle.
Forgot to put this skill on the preseason form! @AmariLaing @amazingbeiderm1 @MikeSautter_ @ClarkGrell37 pic.twitter.com/DHLRscGX8Z
— MS Patriots Softball (@MSPatriotsSB) August 14, 2022
It’s Laing’s demeanor on and off the field that impresses Kerkman the most.
“I enjoy her personality,” he said. “She’s really coachable. She takes the team success and puts that above her own.
“We keep working with her on stuff. A lot of time people with good players, they kind of let them go so they can focus on their other players. We want to work on everybody and she’s really receptive to that.”
Laing wanted a better start to her senior season. There was some pressure to carry over her success and reputation from last year, she admits. Maybe she was pressing at the plate. The slow start didn’t rattle her and she said she’s feeling more comfortable in the batter’s box.
“Just the support from my coaches and teammates was really helpful,” said Laing, who is hitting .364 with three homers and 12 RBIs for the 8-4 Patriots. “They knew I could do it, so they trusted me, and they didn’t give up on me. I knew that I could pull through for them if they can just trust me.”
With sophomore leadoff hitter Baylie Owen, Laing and junior Bree Urban (hitting .676) at the top, Millard South has a lineup that can produce a lot of runs. The Patriots are ranked No. 7 in Class A this week.
A three-homer scrimmage introduced Laing to her Millard South teammates. Last year, a barrage of homers launched her in front of the state. Laing began the season by belting home runs in seven straight games.
“I think the thing with Amari is those balls just weren’t dipping over the fence,” Kerkman said. “They were going 30 and 40 feet beyond the fence, just because her hands are so strong.”
Laing finished her junior campaign batting .453 with 14 blasts, 10 doubles, 34 RBIs and 50 runs scored.
She’ll have a big decision to make. College softball? Or college track and field? Multiple Division II schools have shown interest in Laing for softball, and she has picked up DI interest for track.
But like she does on the field, Laing isn’t fretting about slumps, slow starts or scoreboards. She can juggle softballs with a smile. She plans to play that way to the finish.
“I just want to have fun, honestly,” Laing said when asked what she hopes to get out of her final softball season at Millard South. “I don’t think that putting pressure on myself is really going to do anything at this time, and I know how good I can be. The pressure is going to be extra stress, like with school, finding a college.”