Gophers use defense to rack up wins in Big Ten

Minnesota leads the conference in fielding percentage this season.

Minnesota's Kaitlyn Richardson throws her bat after a base hit during a doubleheader against Wisconsin on Sunday, April 7, 2013, at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium.

Jaak Jensen, Daily File Photo

Minnesota’s Kaitlyn Richardson throws her bat after a base hit during a doubleheader against Wisconsin on Sunday, April 7, 2013, at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium.

Drew Claussen

Their head coach wasn’t aware of it, but the Gophers own the best fielding percentage in the Big Ten.

Minnesota has a .970 fielding percentage, which is calculated by adding putouts and assists and dividing that number by the number of opportunities (putouts, assists and errors).

“It’s like everything — you try to take care of the fundamentals,” head coach Jessica Allister said.

The Gophers ranked No. 26 in the nation in fielding as of Sunday. Nebraska ranks second in the Big Ten with a .967 fielding percentage.

Allister said she was unaware of where the Gophers stood defensively compared to other teams, but sophomore third baseman Kaitlyn Richardson said she wasn’t.

“Coach [Jessica] Merchant told us at the beginning of the year that we were the top defensive team last year as well,” Richardson said. “We do take pride in it. We work hard every day.”

While the Gophers don’t make a lot of errors, they’re strong in other defensive aspects of the game as well. Minnesota has only recorded one passed ball — second-place Nebraska has five — and has allowed only 31 stolen bases.

“[Catcher Kari] Dorle does a great job controlling the running game behind the dish,” Allister said. “I think our outfield has been tremendous this year at running down fly balls.”

Strong defense has also helped the team’s pitchers, Allister said. Having a solid defense behind them allows pitchers to attack batters.

“You can’t pitch from behind,” Allister said. “You have to pitch ahead of batters, and if you’re trying to be too perfect, you end up behind a lot. And that’s not a good thing.”

Richardson said when junior pitcher Sara Moulton is effective, she’s inducing a lot of ground balls to the left side of the infield.

“I’ve never played for a pitcher where I’ve gotten so many ground balls per game,” Richardson said. “She has confidence knowing that we’re going to make the play behind her.

“I would think, as a pitcher, it would be comforting knowing that she doesn’t have to strike everybody out,” Richardson added.

Allister said she breaks a game down into pitching, defense and hitting, and she tells her team it will have a great chance to win if it does two of those things very well.

“If you get great pitching and great defense, all you have to do is scratch out a run,” Allister said.

Though Minnesota is the top team defensively, the Gophers have committed 41 errors in 46 games this season. Richardson said moving past an error requires two things.

“A key thing in getting over errors is wanting the next ball,” she said, “but I think the biggest thing is just letting it go because you can’t do anything about the last error.”