Freshman shows few growing pains

Alex Davis is closing in on the Gophers’ single-season home run record this year.

Freshman shows few growing pains

Marco LaNave

As a freshman coming to the Minnesota softball program this season, Alex Davis had a reason to be humble. And becoming an everyday starter and the GophersâÄô best power hitter doesnâÄôt seem to have changed that. âÄúIâÄôll do whatever for the team,âÄù Davis said. An example of that attitude was when Davis, the everyday third baseman so far this season, played eight of 10 defensive innings at shortstop in last weekendâÄôs series against Michigan. âÄúIf the coaches ask her to do something differently, sheâÄôs up for change,âÄù junior first baseman Malisa Barnes said. âÄúThatâÄôs the biggest thing you can ask for in an athlete.âÄù Davis has a team-leading nine home runs and 19 RBIs. With another home run, Davis would have the most homers of any Minnesota player since Jordanne Nygren set the program record with 15 in 2003. Nygren set the freshman record of 14 in 1999. Despite the individual achievements that remain possible, Davis said last weekend that she was focusing on small victories against two dominant Michigan pitchers. Like most of her teammates, Davis went hitless. But after two strikeouts Saturday, Davis fouled off three pitches in a seven-pitch first-inning at-bat on Sunday that ended with a flyout. She also had a fourth-inning flyout to deep right-center field. âÄú[She] is striving to take each at-bat and learn something,âÄù co-head coach Julie Standering said. DavisâÄô work ethic has impressed older players such as Barnes, who remembers being a freshman contributor two years ago. âÄúSheâÄôs been doing everything in her power to get better each and every day, and sheâÄôs been a force in our lineup,âÄù said Barnes, who started every game while leading Minnesota in home runs and RBI as a freshman in 2008. âÄúI think sheâÄôs filled some big shoes.âÄù The Gophers entered this season without Colleen Conway, who had been a fixture on the left side of the infield during a four-year career in which she started every game. That set the bar for Davis, who led her team at Bishop Montgomery High School near Los Angeles in batting average and extra-base hits each of the last three seasons. âÄúWhen I got here I was really excited to learn from my coaches and all of my teammates,âÄù Davis said. âÄúI canâÄôt really do anything but learn, so I was just coming in open-minded and ready to go âĦ because if you stay closed-minded, youâÄôre not going to grow as a person or a player.âÄù Davis said a turning point in her career came during âÄúOpportunity Weeks,âÄù the GophersâÄô two weeks of practice during winter break. âÄúI went through a lot of mental changes,âÄù she said. âÄúI was trying to figure out the best way for me to respond to maybe not succeeding when I knew I could.âÄù Davis proved her potential with a spectacular pair of games in the season-opening Metrodome Softball Classic. Davis had two hits, including the game-winner in the season opener against Western Illinois. The next day, she hit two home runs, including one that forced extra innings and led to a victory against Iowa State. It was the first of DavisâÄô three multi-homer games this season. Davis has said multiple times this season that she isnâÄôt trying to hit home runs, but the Gophers (15-25), who have the Big TenâÄôs lowest team batting average, certainly appreciate them. As a bright spot for a team that is relying heavily on its young talent, Davis has had to help her teammates respond to disappointments. Davis said the teamâÄôs win-loss record doesnâÄôt reflect the teamâÄôs growth so far this season. She added that the veteran players have remained committed and invested in the young talent, such as Davis, who will lead the team the next few years. âÄúFrom us young kids to the seniors, weâÄôre all gung-ho about it,âÄù Davis said. âÄúWeâÄôre playing with each other, and weâÄôre trying to get there, and weâÄôre trying to do a lot to stay together.âÄù