TUSCALOOSA, Ala. On December 25, 1984, Steve and Treva Benak received the ultimate Christmas present when their first daughter, Mallory Benak, was born Christmas morning in Dothan, Ala.
Mallory, now a senior on the University of Alabama softball team, was originally due to be born in early December but ended up being late. Treva went in to labor on December 24 and would not give birth to Mallory until 36 hours later, making her birth date Christmas Day.
“I’m a Christmas baby,” said Mallory. “My mom jokes with everybody that I was actually supposed to be born on the 10th. I was 15 days late. She kind of got an idea of how I was going to be in the future, always late and real stubborn. She was also in labor with me for 36 hours. If that is any indication of how I am, there you go.”
Growing up Mallory would have birthday parties a week before Christmas to separate her birthday from the holiday.
“Usually for my birthday when I was younger we would have a separate birthday,” said Mallory. “We would usually do it the week before and have all of my friends over. Christmas is crazy with everything, including family coming, opening Christmas presents and going to church.”
Sometimes all of Mallory’s family would get together to celebrate. On her father Steve’s side of the family she has 17 cousins and on her mother Treva’s side she has 12 cousins. The family would try to make sure they had family time. Still Mallory had several friends who had birthdays in the spring and summer months so one year her parents granted her a wish of having a party in the summer.
“Being young it seemed like all of my friends had spring and summer birthdays,” said Mallory. “I was always so mad because they would have swimming parties. One year we actually had a swimming party for me. We had a small birthday with my family at Christmas time and in the summer we had a swimming party with all of my friends.”
When Mallory got to high school she started out playing softball and was also a cheerleader. She attempted to manage both but it became too much for her and she had to make a decision of which one to keep doing.
“I had to quit cheerleading to do softball,” said Benak. “That was probably one of the hardest things I had to do at the time because I loved to cheer. I loved the girls and I loved my coaches. It was a very difficult decision for me because it was at a different end of the spectrum than softball, but I believe I made the right choice.”
Mallory showed that her decision to concentrate solely on softball paid off. Her first two years in high school came at a point when Alabama schools were making a switch to fastpitch softball. Benak didn’t waste any time showing that she could be a very good fastpitch softball player.
“I grew up playing slowpitch my whole life,” said Mallory. “My first fastpitch game I was so nervous. I didn’t think I could hit the ball. In my first at bat I hit it over the fence. That was when I realized that I could do this.”
Dothan had both junior varsity and varsity teams, but the JV squad played fastpitch and the varsity team slowpitch. Benak would end up playing on both teams in the same season, something that would force her to make adjustments for every game.
“There for awhile I was playing fast one day and slow the next,” said Mallory. “It was weird doing that. It was very difficult going from fast to slow and slow to fast. Varsity games were usually on the weekend and maybe on a Wednesday and JV was Tuesday and Thursday. It was very difficult. I took a lot of extra batting practice in order to slow it down and try to hit the slow pitch because it is a totally different thing.”
Mallory excelled at the high school level, earning the Dothan Eagle Player of the Year in 2002 and a spot on both the Birmingham News Super All-State team and Dothan Eagle Super 12 list. She established herself as a speedster on the basepaths with 25 stolen bases her first year and over 40 stolen bases her senior season.
As good as she was in high school, Benak still wasn’t sure if she wanted to continue playing in college. She was being heavily recruited by Wallace Dothan Community College head coach Gene Dews. Her decision didn’t come clear until the morning of signing day.
“My mom told me I shouldn’t pass this opportunity up,” said Mallory. “She said I should get my priorities set and think about it. The night before the signing day I prayed and prayed. I still didn’t know that night when I went to bed but when I woke up the next morning something just told me that I needed to do it. I needed to go to school and stay home and play softball. I went the next day and we met at Coach Dews at Hardees and I told him I was going to play. I guess it was a good decision.”
Playing at Wallace-Dothan gave Mallory a chance to continue her softball career and also stay in her hometown so she could stay close to her family. It also gave her a chance to play at the same school her father played baseball at when he was in college.
Mallory became an instant star at the junior college level. She finished third in the nation in batting average her freshman year and was a second team NFCA All-American. She was also in the top-10 nationally in hitting her sophomore year and made the All-Alabama Community College Conference first team for the second straight year. She set the school record at Wallace-Dothan with 54 stolen bases.
The Lady Govs also made the Junior College World Series during Benak’s tenure at the school. The team had a good showing with a 1-0 win over then No. 1 Phoenix College.
“They were real good and were probably the best team we played,” said Mallory. “We ran a first and third offense on them. We got the catcher to throw down. We had a slow girl on first but they threw it down and we had a fast girl on third who scored. It was all very exciting. I had never been to anything like that before. We took a 22-hour bus ride to Fort Dodge, Iowa. That was probably the longest trip I have ever had in my life. We got up there and there were two big fields that we played on.”
With all of her accomplishments at Wallace-Dothan, Benak began to look at transferring to a Division I school to finish her collegiate career. She was being recruited by some smaller universities as well as a couple of SEC schools, including Samford, Troy, Ole Miss and Mississippi State, but Alabama was the school she really wanted to go to.
“I wanted to play for the best and be where the best teams were,” said Mallory. “Of course Alabama is the best so I had to be here. Coach Dews talked a lot with Coach (Patrick) Murphy about me. It was in July and I had a day where the transfers come in and register. I was coming up here to register and didn’t know if I was going to get to play.”
After she registered Benak went to visit with Alabama head coach Patrick Murphy and assistant coach Alyson Habetz. The three of them visited for over an hour and Coach Murphy told Mallory they would let her know.
“That was probably the most nervous I have ever been in my life,” said Benak. “I didn’t hear anything from him for three days. Then he called me and asked me if I wanted to be on the team. I only had a month before I had to be at school when I found out I was coming.”
Mallory has not had the same role at Alabama as she did in high school and at Wallace-Dothan, but has been a vital player on the championship caliber squad. Both last season as a junior and this year as a senior Mallory has been one of the first players off the bench to pinch run. It is a role that she has taken seriously and done very well in. She realizes that she can be put in the game at any time and has to be ready.
“You can’t be in la la land,” said Benak. “You have to be in the game and be ready to go whenever. You don’t know when Coach Murphy is going to call on you. It could be the first inning or the seventh inning. Whenever he feels like he needs to put you in, you need to be ready to go.”
Some of the things Mallory particularly pays attention to are the actions of the pitchers, catchers and outfielders.
“Some of the pitchers have funky windups,” said Benak. “I watch the pitcher and I watch the catcher. I watch to see how consistent she is with her throw downs and how quick she is up off of her feet. I also look at the outfielders to see what kind of arms they have. I want to get in scoring position because that is the best place to be. If somebody hits it through a gap I can get home quick.”
Last season Benak played in 56 of the 65 games on the season. Although she only had 15 at bats she recorded 11 stolen bases and was only caught stealing once. She also scored 28 runs, 13 of which were in SEC play. She is off to another great start this year and is on pace to pass her totals from her junior season.
Benak and the Crimson Tide will begin a 12-game homestand on Tuesday against Louisiana Tech. The two teams will play a doubleheader beginning at 4 p.m. Mallory will be honored with Mallory Benak Night at the Alabama Softball Complex.