Improvements help Richardson power Gophers’ offense

Kaitlyn Richardson is one of the Gophers’ top hitters, and she’s taken a step forward after her strong freshman season.

Kaitlyn Richardson practices with her team Tuesday, March 6, 2012, at the Gibson-Nagurski Football Practice Facility.

Mark Vancleave, Daily File Photo

Kaitlyn Richardson practices with her team Tuesday, March 6, 2012, at the Gibson-Nagurski Football Practice Facility.

Drew Claussen

Kaitlyn Richardson hails from Phoenix, but she’s found a new home in the Gophers’ infield.

The Arizona native had a strong freshman season, finishing second on the team in batting average behind fellow freshman Tyler Walker. She’s taken the next step as a sophomore for a Minnesota team (20-10, 3-0 Big Ten) that has also shown improvements.

The Gophers’ results from their past two nonconference seasons look similar, but head coach Jessica Allister said the team had a tougher schedule this year.

“We took some blunts early and had to find our confidence a couple weekends in,” she said. “I’m impressed with the way [the team] has improved every weekend.”

Allister’s confidence has a lot to do with the production at the top of her lineup, with Richardson batting third.

“Tyler gets on base, Kari [Dorle] bunts her over and hopefully Bree [Blanchette] and I knock her in,” Richardson said. “It’s a fun way to start off a game.”

In 87 at-bats this season, Richardson has a .471 batting average, five home runs and 23 runs batted in. She leads the Gophers in batting average and RBIs and is tied for the lead in home runs.

“The whole team is doing great. It’s fun to feed off each other,” Richardson said. “It’s kind of easy to just fall in the swing of things and feed off everybody’s energy.”

Richardson batted .338 her freshman season with 10 home runs and 38 RBIs in 160 at-bats.

Though those numbers are impressive, Allister said she’s seen improvement in Richardson’s second year.

“She came out of the gates pretty strong last year,” Allister said. “This year she has a year under her belt where she’s dealt with the ups and downs of playing collegiate softball.”

Richardson, who hits home runs regularly, isn’t the same player that walked into Sandra Day O’Connor High School as a freshman.

“I grew like seven inches in high school,” Richardson said. “I ended up just growing and transformed more into a power hitter rather than the [slap hitter] that I thought I was going to be.”

Richardson said she started driving the ball after her growth spurt, which helped her career. She also made the switch from a right-handed to left-handed hitter as a freshman in high school.

“The first year, being left-handed wasn’t the most fun time in my life,” Richardson said. “But it just kind of all clicked the summer after my freshman year, and by the time I was a sophomore, I started getting interested looks [from colleges].”

The Big Ten portion of the schedule tripped Minnesota last season, with the team going 10-14 in the conference.

Both Richardson and Allister predicted different fortunes this season. So far they’re correct, as Minnesota opened the Big Ten season with an impressive sweep at Iowa.

“We’re still getting better with every series,” Richardson said. “Last year we kind of peaked early on, but I think we’re only going to go up from here.”