Lou Allan was waiting for the changeup.
It was the same pitch from Penn State pitcher Madison Shaffer that had fooled the freshman earlier in Saturday’s game. In fact, it had fooled Michigan’s entire lineup. But in the seventh inning, with senior right-hander Tera Blanco on second and the score tied 0-0, Allan knew she wouldn’t be fooled again.
When the pitch came, she was ready.
Joining the Wolverines as the No. 8 prospect in the country according to FloSoftball, Allan was expected to make an impact right away. But things never turn out quite as expected, and for Allan, her fate was particularly crushing: a knee injury just before the start of the season.
“I was super down the first couple — the first week,” Allan said. “ … I had this stupid injury, and (Michigan coach Carol Hutchins) just came in there every day (while) I was doing rehab during practice and say, ‘You’ve gotta come back stronger.’”
Hutchins’ words of encouragement changed Allan’s mentality. Instead of viewing her injury as a crushing blow, she saw it as something that would make her stronger. She recovered faster than the doctors expected and seized the starting designated player job shortly before conference play. Still, recovery from injury is a process, and it took time for Allan to hit her stride.
“I was kinda behind on games compared to the rest of the team,” Allan said. “So for me, it was just seeing more pitches and getting back into the swing of things.”
Against Penn State, her resilience paid off.
On Friday, Allan hit the ball over the fence in the top of the fifth for her first career home run. It extended the Wolverines’ lead to 6-0 in an eventual 14-2 win.
“Every week, she gets a little better,” Hutchins said. “ … She makes adjustments better than probably any kid I’ve ever seen. She can make an adjustment in one pitch.”
Which brings us back to the changeup.
Sure, the game was scoreless, but the scoreboard can be deceiving. Michigan left 11 runners on base through the first six innings. The Nittany Lions, on the other hand, had just five total baserunners. At the heart of the Wolverines’ woes was that pitch. Just when it seemed Michigan was about to break through, Shaffer would go to her changeup again. It would drop off the table as the batter swung right over.
“We were swinging at decent pitches,” Allan said. “But then she would throw her changeup and all of a sudden, we were swinging out of our shoes.”
Allan stepped up to the plate in the seventh knowing that she couldn’t let that pitch defeat her again. She would come back stronger.
She took two balls and waited for the pitch she knew was coming. She swung. And, when the Wolverines needed her most, she delivered.
“All I needed to do is hit it to the outfield,” Allan said. “Make it hit the green.”
It did more than that. The ball sailed over the fence for a home run to get Michigan on the board, 2-0. The Wolverines would eventually win the game, 3-0, and took Sunday’s contest, 11-1, to secure the sweep.
Whether faced with a significant injury or a baffling changeup, some players would have succumbed to frustration. But for Allan, it was just another challenge to tackle head-on.