Dani Wagner enjoying breakout junior season

Wagner has hit two walk-off hits for the Gophers this season to prove reliable in high-pressure situations.

Dani Wagner rounds a base at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium on April 23, 2015.

Niti Gupta, Daily File Photo

Dani Wagner rounds a base at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium on April 23, 2015.

Kyle Steinberg

Last year, Dani Wagner recorded just eight at-bats with a total of zero hits.

Fast forward a year, and Wagner is hitting .359, is third on the Gophers in RBI and has two walk-off hits.

The junior may seem like one of the biggest surprises at the plate during Minnesota’s program-record 14-0 start. But it’s nothing new to her teammates.

“The biggest thing is [Wagner] is finding confidence within her at-bats,” said head coach Jessica Allister. “We’ve seen this hitter in practice for a long, long time.”

As a sophomore, Wagner saw quite a bit of the field but not so much of the plate.

She started 22 games at shortstop and had 21 put-outs but was often kept out of the batting lineup, stepping up to the plate for just eight official at-bats.

“The main philosophy for me was just helping my team where it needed it,” Wagner said. “At that time it was just on the field … I was all for it.”

The Gophers have continued to look to Wagner for defense. She moved to center field after all three starting outfielders graduated last year.

Not only has she had to learn a new role in the field but also a new plate presence.

Wagner was able to score 14 runs for Minnesota last season and went a perfect 6-6 in stolen bases, so the future loomed bright, but she’s taken this season’s hitting to a whole new level.

She has racked up 39 at-bats, with 14 hits and three home runs — good for second on the team.

Although hitting consistently is a big part of Wagner’s improvement, she has also proven her poise in high-pressure situations.

Minnesota has found itself in a few tight battles on the way to an unbeaten start.

Twice, Wagner has stepped to the plate with an opportunity to keep the Gophers’ winning streak alive.

And twice she came through.

While being counted on for offensive production—just a year after not seeing many pitches—isn’t easy, Wagner attributed her response to offseason work.

“The main thing for me was getting a good mental approach at the plate,” she said. “It’s a little more exciting when you have to go up to the plate and make a difference on the offensive side of the ball.”

Senior outfielder Sam Macken said Wagner’s mental approach has made a big difference.

“I think she’s just more confident in her abilities,” Macken said. “I think she’s just getting more comfortable being in her position right now.”

Minnesota will next travel to Baton Rouge, Louisiana with a new program-best ranking — 10th in the country — for the LSU Invitational.

The no. 13 Tigers could provide the first true test for the Gophers this season although Macken said the key is not looking at it any differently.

“Just approaching it the same way we approach every weekend,” she said. “We’re here to have fun, and when we have fun we do well.”