Dorle climbing up learning curve

The freshman has been dealt the task of motivating the Gophers’ young pitchers.

Marco LaNave

Like many of her young Gophers softball teammates, Kari Dorle has been learning this year. The freshman catcher appears to be one of the players who will form the programâÄôs foundation for the next few years. And the experience Dorle is gaining this year will pay off later in her Minnesota career, co-head coach Lisa Bernstein said. âÄúI think KariâÄôs getting better with every opportunity,âÄù Bernstein said. âÄúShe is young âĦ thereâÄôs a lot of things being demanded of her âĦ and sheâÄôs had a learning curve to some of it.âÄù Dorle, who has been the starting catcher in 45 of the GophersâÄô 46 games, said she tries to play as if she is older than a freshman. âÄúItâÄôs just a great opportunity,âÄù Dorle said. âÄúIâÄôm trying to prove myself that this is where I should be.âÄù The Gophers recruited both Dorle and Alex Davis as catchers in this yearâÄôs freshman class, but they each also worked at third base before the season. At both positions, the Gophers sought to replace longtime starters. Catcher Shannon Stemper graduated after recording the programâÄôs best career fielding percentage (.994) and starting every game for Minnesota since the beginning of the 2007 campaign. Before this season, Davis settled into the third-base spot (she has started the last seven games at shortstop) while Dorle did the same behind the plate. âÄúSheâÄôs got a good arm, she swings a strong bat and early in the season she was kind of getting acclimated to how quick this game is. We just saw potential,âÄù Bernstein said. âÄúSheâÄôll be the first one to tell you sheâÄôs got to work on her skills every single day to get to the level she wants to get to.âÄù While Dorle has devoted time to blocking âÄî and energy to self improvement this season âÄî she has also had the challenge of handling a pitching staff that entered the season with fewer than 60 combined innings of collegiate pitching experience. Despite different personalities âÄî and win-loss records this season âÄî freshman Lacey Middlebrooks and sophomore Alissa Koch have supported each other and developed good relationships with their first-year catcher, Dorle said. Koch has had her own challenges. She became the veteran among MinnesotaâÄôs pitchers after making just seven starts as a freshman and carries a 0-17 record into this weekendâÄôs home series against Purdue. She has started and lost the past five games since Middlebrooks left a start early on April 14. But Koch said Dorle has been able to remind her that games are about having fun. âÄúSheâÄôs a really funny person, and I think that helps because in pressure situations she definitely calms you down a little bit,âÄù Koch said. âÄúThe first day of practice she just came in with such a positive attitude and positive energy and just made everybody laugh.âÄù DorleâÄôs attitude has been needed in a season where many of the teamâÄôs young players are adapting to the rigors of collegiate softball, such as the GophersâÄô current 11-game losing streak. But Dorle has learned to recognize growth in losses. âÄúSmall victories for me are blocking better, framing better, throwing runners out,âÄù said Dorle, who will face the Big TenâÄôs top base-stealing team this weekend in the Boilermakers. Dorle has already taken smaller steps in the wake of Stemper, who didnâÄôt become the everyday catcher until her sophomore season. Though her opponentsâÄô 68 stolen bases are the most allowed by a Big Ten catcher this season, Dorle has thrown out the second-most base runners (16), including a conference-best four pickoffs. Her 19 percent caught-stealing rate is comparable to StemperâÄôs career best as a starter (20 percent âÄî 12 of 61 âÄî in 2009). Offensively, Dorle had just two hits in her first 27 at-bats, but she has since raised her average to .149. Her seven doubles and 14 walks are third and second on the team, respectively. âÄúSheâÄôs got her eyes opened a little bit to collegiate softball, and sheâÄôs responding well,âÄù Bernstein said. âÄúI definitely see growth.âÄù âÄúIâÄôve noticed that IâÄôve improved a lot more,âÄù Dorle said. âÄúIâÄôve worked a lot and it really shows.âÄù