EVANSTON, Ill. -- Northwestern sophomore Emily Allard stepped up to the plate and took a quick glance at Wisconsin’s defense.
Allard couldn’t believe what she saw.
Wisconsin had placed its right fielder at first base. The first baseman had moved up and was standing a couple feet from the pitcher’s circle. The second baseman had shifted to the left of second base. The shortstop stood in her normal position. The third baseman played the line and also advanced toward the plate.
Allard’s first reaction was to laugh, which is telling of her bubbly personality. Her second thought can also explain who she is.
“My second reaction was, ‘OK, if that’s how you’re going to play me, watch this,’ ” Allard said.
Allard smashed the ball up the middle for a single. The Badgers learned that day as nearly every opponent has this season that Allard isn’t going to be contained. She finished the day 4 for 4 against Wisconsin and has since had a 22-game hitting streak and is ranked in the nation’s top 10 with a .492 batting average.
She also has scored 38 runs and stolen 34 bases in 35 attempts, both of which are also among the nation’s best. But what makes Allard especially unique in college softball, even among its premiers players, is how she achieves what she does.
The 6-foot Allard is a slap hitter and has blazing speed.
Players of her height are usually power hitters, not slap hitters. And most 6-foot players can’t sprint up the line like Allard.
“I’ve heard a few things like, ‘Wait, she’s a slapper?’ ” said Allard, who plays shortstop. “People look at how tall I am and don’t think I can get down the line that fast.”
Batting lefty, Allard is already a few steps closer to first base than a right-handed hitter. While she would prefer to send a ball into the outfield for a hit, she understands if she can put the ball on the ground she’s just as likely to reach base. It takes a hard, direct hit or a very strong arm to get Allard out.
“It’s who I am,” said Allard, who was turned into a left-handed slap hitter as a high school sophomore. “It’s what I was molded into, and I’ll do everything I can with it to do the best I can. If that’s unique and harder to figure out, maybe I can continue to get on base and give our team to momentum to win whatever games.”
The Wildcats have certainly benefitted from Allard’s bat this season. During her 22-game hitting streak, which was snapped on Saturday, Northwestern won 14 games. She had 10 games of two or more hits during that streak, and her average was above .500 throughout most of it.
“What has impressed me most about Allard over [the 22-game hitting streak had] been her mental toughness and her consistency as a table-setter for our offense,” Northwestern coach Kate Drohan said. “It's not just the number of games she has hit in, it's the number of multi-hit games she has, the number of bases she has stolen and the number of runs she has scored.”
Allard’s hitting streak will be memorable, but nothing will top what she experienced against UC Davis in San Diego on Feb. 18.
Allard’s father Bill hadn’t been able to see his daughter play her freshman season at Northwestern because of his demanding schedule as a trucker. He was always on the road, and the chances seemed slim again this season. But just before Northwestern was to play UC Davis, Bill discovered it would work out to attend Northwestern’s game.
Bill just didn’t tell her he was coming.
“Thirty seconds before the game, I hear my name, and he’s right there,” Allard said. “I just lost it. I still get teary-eyed when I think about it. What happened was with me crying, we have a close-knit team, and they know the relationship between my dad and I, and they were crying, too. There were eight of us crying in the dugout.
“I wanted to go hug him right that second, but I knew we still had to play.”
Play, she did. Allard set a new a school record by going 5 for 5 in a win.
“It was amazing,” Allard said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better day for my dad to see me play. Afterward, I just hugged him for 30 seconds. That’s all I wanted. He was just so proud of me and just so excited to be there. If I wouldn’t have gotten a single hit, it wouldn’t have mattered.”