University of Georgia outfielder Cortni Emanuel plants her left foot close to the back of the batter’s box and perches her right foot on its toes. As the pitcher delivers, Emanuel drops her right heel, then crosses her left leg over her right leg, to start an abbreviated swing, and takes a head start to first base.
All of this motion happens within seconds and ends with a “slap hit” over the infield.
Emanuel, a junior, and her older sister Sydni Emanuel, a UGA senior outfielder who is also a slap hitter, have scored more than one fourth of the Bulldogs’ runs this season. Sydni Emanuel finished the regular season third in the Southeastern Conference in hits, while Cortni Emanuel led in stolen bases.
“Having a person who can get on base in your No. 1 hole, and in the second hole, having someone who can bunt and do different things to move the runner – that’s good,” Cortni Emanuel says.
With the success of the Emanuels’ slap hitting at the top of the order, UGA has added two more slap hitters to the lineup. Freshmen Jordan Doggett and Ciara Bryan began slapping recently at the bottom of the order.
Their offensive production helped Georgia (33-21) earn a spot in the postseason despite struggling at time this year. The Bulldogs, who reached the Women’s College World Series last season, will take on Jacksonville State (40-10) in the first game of the NCAA Tallahassee Regional at 4:30 p.m. today.
“Piling up slap hitters back to back –or more – increases that pressure and always positions a team to score,” Cheri Kempf, commissioner of the National Pro Fastpitch League, says via email.
Various coaches, including UGA associate head coach Tony Baldwin, say slap hitting started in the mid- to late-1990s, before the International Softball Federation changed the color of softballs from white to optic yellow to increase offense. Baldwin explains that players had a hard time seeing the white ball, and to create baserunners, slappers just tried to make simple contact.
“Slapping basically became a part of just to try to get the ball in play and see if you could beat something out,” Baldwin says.
Kempf says that slapping came into collegiate softball as early as the late-‘80s.
“From there it traveled through college softball and began the trickle down into youth ball,” she says.
Whichever decade slapping took root, the slapping trendsetters are transitioning into coaching now, teaching today’s athletes, Baldwin says.
Identifying a potential slap hitter comes down to two qualities that seem at odds: speed and struggle. However, Darren Mueller, who is in his 16th season as North Dakota State’s head softball coach, says both of these traits are reasons to make the switch.
“A lot of times it’s someone on our team who has a lot of speed and who is struggling on the right side of the batter’s box. So we just talk to them and buy into what slapping is — getting on base more,” Mueller says.
From there, Mueller begins the process of getting the player comfortable from the opposite side. He makes the player watch pitches from the left side to get accustomed, then he gives them a bat and allows them to bunt. Once the player is ready, he starts teaching the motion.
“We’ll do a drill where we’ll put a pitching machine out and just let them catch the ball. Just get them used to seeing the ball from that side of the batter’s box then we progressively get into the footwork,” Mueller says.
There are three types of slapping — drag bunting, bounce slapping and slapping for power. Drag bunting is the motion of slapping with a bunt. In bounce slapping, the batter hits the ball with a chopping motion to make the ball bounce over the infield. Slapping for power adds the motion of slapping to a power swing.
Slap hitting requires a lot of time and practice. Alongside her older sister, Cortni Emanuel learned to slap hit in the eighth grade when her coach noticed her speed.
The Emanuel sisters rarely, if at all, slap for power, but they have mastered the bounce slap.
Although the Emanuel sisters make slapping look easy, there is one important rule to remember. A slap hitter can not make contact with either foot planted outside of the batter’s box. If the batter does make contact outside of the box, the batter is automatically out. Making sure the motion starts at the right time ensures another opportunity to get the ball in play.
Slap hitters create baserunners early and often, and these hitters have higher on-base percentages. When making the lineup, coaches strategically place slappers. In most cases, slap hitters hit in the leadoff, second, eighth and ninth spots.
Sydni Emanuel gets on base 46 percent of the time, while Cortni Emanuel reaches base 47 percent of the time. UGA’s No. 3 batter, Alyssa DiCarlo, leads the team in RBIs. So, if the Emanuels are on base, DiCarlo usually gets them home.
“Those two at the beginning, it really gives us two bites at the apple to get somebody on ahead of our hitters,” Baldwin says.
Another advantage for a slap hitter comes from the opposing team’s defense shifting. Infielders creep closer to the plate when a slap hitter comes up to bat. The slap hitter’s speed forces the infield to make a play in seconds, faster than any other hit in the infield.
“It’s really quick. You get the ball, and you have to throw it so you have to be ready for it,” says Alysen Febrey, UGA first baseman.
Although most infielders creep in, Sydni Emanuel has seen different defensive strategies.
“It depends on who we play. I’ve seen defenses move in or even shift to just one side of the field,” Sydni says.
The Grady Sports Bureau is part of the sports media program at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.