Minnesota combats grind

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

Daily File Photo, Mark Vancleave

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

Jared Christensen

A week removed from its biggest win of the season, No. 20 Minnesota will look to continue its hot start when it travels to Stillwater, Okla., this weekend for the Mizuno Classic.

That signature win came over then-No. 4 Arizona State and improved the Gophers’ record to 15-2, their best start to a season since 1976.

Minnesota head coach Jessica Allister said the key to continuing the team’s success is staying focused and competitive every game, even as the season starts to drag a bit.

“We’re getting into the middle of a long season,” she said. “And that’s where it starts to get harder to stay focused and keep pounding it.”

Allister said a key to staying focused will be looking at the games down the road and not settling after a fast start.

“We’re off to a great start, and this could be a very special year,” she said, “but that can disappear very quickly if we focus too much on the great start.”

With the exception of a small slipup against Florida International last weekend — only the Gophers’ second loss of the year — the team has showcased its focus.

Minnesota’s first game against a top-five opponent resulted in a 15-2 blowout loss to No. 1 Florida on Feb. 16.

That loss, however, seems like a distant memory after the team knocked off then-No. 4 Arizona State.

While the Gophers saw success against the Sun Devils, the loss to FIU serves as a reminder to stay focused every game, junior infielder Kaitlyn Richardson said.

“That’s the beauty and the beast of the game of softball — anybody can beat anybody,” she said.

Though Minnesota’s competition won’t be quite as stiff this weekend — the Gophers will be the only ranked team at the tournament — the team will have to be ready against Oklahoma State.

Minnesota barely slipped past the Cowgirls last month in a 1-0 win on the road.

That game ended on a walk-off stolen base after an errant throw from the Oklahoma State catcher allowed the Gophers to score the game’s only run in the bottom of the seventh.

This time around, Allister said she expects things to be a little different.

“We’ve seen each other’s pitchers now, so we’ll make some adjustments and be ready to go,” she said.

Gophers junior infielder Tyler Walker said this weekend is all about continuing the momentum through the middle of a dream season.

“When I came to Minnesota, the goal was to rebuild a broken program,” she said. “It’s pretty exciting that we’re winning as many games as we are. If there’s a team that can achieve its goals, it’s this one.”