Dalen making the transition from mound to the box

For four years, Katie Dalen pitched âÄî and thatâÄôs all. She was good, too, posting ERAs under 4.00 her first three years and throwing a no-hitter as a true freshman [in a year that she would be later given a medical redshirt]. But this fall, in her fifth year, Dalen decided her skills were going in a new direction. Her ERA had risen every year, and for her it was time to try the other half of the game. âÄúI just saw myself in a different role,âÄù Dalen said. âÄúI thought I could help out in a different way this year. ItâÄôs just one of those things, I started hitting and then weeded out the pitching.âÄù Dalen hadnâÄôt taken an at-bat since her senior year of high school, but she started working with coaches on becoming a utility hitter and has made the switch completely this year. She can play first base and any three of the outfield positions and still help out pitching to hitters in practice. The Gophers did a similar switch in 2007 when they moved Mandy Valadez from a relief pitching role to third base. Valadez was one of the teamâÄôs top hitters the next year, hitting .294 with seven homeruns and 31 RBIs. Dalen has appeared in nine of the teamâÄôs 11 games, starting five of them, and is hitting .167. She has struck out five times in 18 at-bats but hasnâÄôt made an error on defense. Co-head coach Lisa Bernstein said DalenâÄôs role will increase as she gets used to her new task. Dealing with the increased ball movement has been the toughest adjustment, Dalen said. âÄúSheâÄôs been remarkable,âÄù senior pitcher Briana Hasset said. âÄúI canâÄôt imagine taking four years off and stepping into the box. She has all my support, because thatâÄôs an impressive challenge.âÄù ItâÄôs not unheard of for pitchers to also hit in softball, but that wasnâÄôt much of a consideration in DalenâÄôs case, as the GophersâÄô general team philosophy is to have pitchers focus on pitching, Hasset said. Even with freshman pitcher Alissa Koch struggling in her place âÄî she has a 7.15 ERA in four starts this season âÄî Dalen said she doesnâÄôt plan to return to the mound. âÄúI miss it sometimes, sure, but this is a good role for me,âÄù Dalen said. âÄúIâÄôm happy and IâÄôm comfortable with it, and I think itâÄôs how I can help out best. And thatâÄôs all that matters.âÄù