Higginbotham catching on quick for team

Noah Seligman

Minnesota softball freshman catcher Megan Higginbotham grew up watching Florida State softball games from the stands.

So it worked out well for her that the Gophers opened their 2004 campaign at the Florida State Classic in her hometown.

“It was nice to go home and play,” she said. “It was cool playing my first game at home.”

She started her college career going 7-for-12 at the plate with two RBIs at the Florida State Classic Feb. 7 and 8.

Higginbotham has since continued her torrid pace with the bat in her hands. She currently leads the Gophers in batting average (.377), slugging percentage (.563), on-base percentage (.424), hits (57), extra-base hits (17), total bases (85) and RBIs (35).

“Megan is a fierce competitor,” co-coach Lisa Bernstein said. “She has great hand-eye coordination. She’s got a strong arm, and she’s fast.”

But it is not just her physical traits that are making an impression on the coaching staff.

Bernstein said Higginbotham is a student of the sport and her mental approach translates to results on the field.

“She had a mind for the game,” she said. “She’s always trying to find new ways to excel.”

Higginbotham said her psyche is pretty simple when it comes to hitting. She tries to keep a clear mind and not over-think in the batter’s box.

By doing this, she has made things easier for teammates. Higginbotham bats third in the lineup.

The two slappers at the top of the order – Stephanie Sward and Tonya Mitchell – work to get on base. It is up to the heart of the order to drive them in.

“I love having Megan hit behind me,” Mitchell said. “She’s aggressive and knows how to play the game. You can count on her in situations.”

The pitching staff has learned to count on her, too. They have to trust their catcher. Senior pitcher Piper Marten said it took some time to get used to the new target behind the plate, but Marten said she is pleased with Higginbotham’s improvement.

Higginbotham had to be trained to call games from the crouch. She did not have a strong background in the strategy of game management in high school.

Higginbotham also had to change her blocking style to enable her to unload the ball faster.

Bernstein said the new technique has already netted results for the Gophers.

“We’re not seeing as many teams steal,” she said. “She keeps runners close to the bag.”

Last season Minnesota graduated starting catcher Anne Thul, so the Gophers were in the market for a new receiver.

That is when pitching coach Jenn Stokes – a Florida State graduate – alerted Minnesota’s coaches about this catcher from Tallahassee, Fla.

Higginbotham said she was recruited by southern schools, but headed north because of the instruction she could receive at Minnesota.

“The coaches are amazing,” she said. “They know their stuff.”

Typically, there is a transitional period for most freshmen playing at the next level.

Higginbotham skipped that stage. Bernstein described her young catcher as a veteran.

“Megan doesn’t act like a freshman in there,” she said. “She’s got great composure, great poise and a lot of confidence.”