Haddonfield duo counting down days

Haddonfield seniors Mike McLaughlin (left) and Mark Ostbye. (Ron Tarver/Staff Photographer)

They started out as T-ballers, little guys with their hats flying off their heads and their sights set on the same postgame reward: snowcones from the snack stand.

They are big boys now, and while they still enjoy a celebratory sweet, they are chasing another prize: a state title.

"It's weird to think how long we've been together and these are our last games together," Haddonfield senior Mike McLaughlin said about his classmate, teammate, and best friend since kindergarten, Mark Ostbye. "We both know how we want this to end."

McLaughlin and Ostbye are similar to senior athletes at every school, sensing the pending end of their careers and trying to squeeze every drop out of their few final games and practices.

It's the same story for football players, soccer players, and field hockey players in November and for basketball players and swimmers and wrestlers in March.

It's a little different for seniors in the spring, as proms and class trips and graduation plans and final school assignments and college preparations serve as near-daily reminders of the life change in the air.

As Lenape senior lacrosse star Andrew Streilein noted on Tuesday, "With school ending, you just feel the end of your career coming."

It's a little different for McLaughlin and Ostbye, too. They've been together for about as long as both can remember.

"It seems like forever," Ostbye said. "Our moms were friends, and it seems like we've been best friends since the first day of kindergarten."

That was 12 grades ago. But it was sports more than school that strengthened the bond.

"We both love sports," McLaughlin said. "We were together all through Little League, all through middle school, all through high school."

They will go their separate ways next year. Ostbye has signed with the University of Virginia on a baseball scholarship. McLaughlin, who led Haddonfield to the South Jersey Group 2 football title as a quarterback in the fall, will attend Tufts in Medford, Mass., with the intention of playing two sports.

They have teamed up to make the most of their senior season.

McLaughlin, an infielder, is batting .356 with seven extra-base hits, 15 runs, and 13 RBIs. Ostbye is 5-3 as a pitcher with a 1.70 ERA and 60 strikeouts in 41 innings and also is batting .333 with six doubles.

The best thing for both athletes is that Haddonfield has put together a strong season, with an 18-4 record, the Colonial Liberty title, and a home game against rival Haddon Heights on Thursday in the South Jersey Group 2 semifinals.

"We have a lot of experience, a lot of senior leadership," McLaughlin said. "That's been the key for us this season."

Ostbye said he and McLaughlin have spent countless hours working out during the last several winters, always preparing for the next baseball season - because there always was a next season.

But now their last season is almost over. They are down to their last practices, their last games.

"It's kind of sad," Ostbye said. "We knew this was coming. We've talked about it. We've talked about how special it would be if we ended it with a state championship."