Richardson powers Minnesota with bat

Kaitlyn Richardson has been crushing the ball this season and is batting .462.

Minnesota infielder Kaitlyn Richardson throws her bat after a base hit against Wisconsin on April 7, 2013, at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium.

Daily File Photo; Jaak Jensen

Minnesota infielder Kaitlyn Richardson throws her bat after a base hit against Wisconsin on April 7, 2013, at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium.

Jared Christensen

Fresh off its most successful postseason in a decade, No. 20 Minnesota is off to a hot start this year, thanks to the offensive punch of junior Kaitlyn Richardson.

The infielder is off to a tremendous start, batting .462 and slugging a whopping .731 — those numbers lead the team.

She also went 6-for-9 last weekend and drove in five runs.

And all this comes after she was named to the National Collegiate Player of the Year Award watch list at the beginning of the season.

Richardson, however, said the individual accolades mean next to nothing compared to the overall team-oriented goals this season.

“The ultimate goal is Big Ten champs,” she said. “And it takes all of us to get there.”

So far, the Gophers are off to an excellent start. They are 8-1, with their lone loss coming at the hands of No. 1 Florida last weekend.

This is only the third time in program history that the team has started a season with eight consecutive wins.

Richardson’s role in that hot start can’t be undervalued, and it extends far beyond her stellar performance in the batter’s box.

Gophers senior pitcher Sara Moulton — who set the program record for career wins last week — said Richardson’s defensive presence in the infield helps her confidence in the circle.

“She’s a vocal leader at third base, and that helps me tremendously as a pitcher,” Moulton said. “I always know she’s there to make plays for me.”

Still, Richardson’s role on the Gophers extends beyond her tangible skills she displays around the field and in the batter’s box.

Minnesota head coach Jessica Allister said Richardson has the complete package that most all coaches look for in players.

“She’s outstanding in the classroom and prepares as well as anybody in the offseason,” Allister said. “She’s focused, disciplined, a great person and a great teammate.”

This week, the team’s focus will shift to North Carolina, where it will face UNC-Greensboro twice and will also face George Washington, Hampton and Army.

This is the first tournament of the year where  the team won’t face another top-20 opponent.

Richardson, however,  said focus won’t be an issue.

“Every game matters just as much as the next one,” she said. “And every game is just about learning. We have to focus on getting better every rep.”

For the Gophers, this weekend represents a tremendous opportunity to continue their early season success.

For Richardson, it represents yet another opportunity to continue to dominate opposing pitchers she faces.

“She’s one of the most feared hitters in the Big Ten,” Moulton said. “And there’s a reason she’s an All-American.”