Offensive revival proves piece of cupcake for Higginbotham

Since revisiting her swing, Megan Higginbotham is 19-for-26 in Big Ten play.

Chris Lempesis

Eight games into Minnesota’s softball team’s Big Ten schedule, things were not going very well for catcher Megan Higginbotham.

The sophomore was mired in a 4-for-21 slump in conference play, so she went in for a visit with co-coach Lisa Bernstein, who made an interesting analogy about Higginbotham’s swing.

Bernstein compared it to a cupcake.

“She was saying, (with) my swing, I was putting all the frosting on and I didn’t have my base,” Higginbotham said, meaning her swing was getting too long.

So, the two set out to correct Higginbotham’s swing. They took a back-to-basics approach, one that mainly involved the use of a hitting tee and extra hitting work before practice and games.

And while Higginbotham and Bernstein said they hoped the time spent would lead to improved results, it’s hard to imagine they had any idea it would lead to the results of the last two weeks.

Higginbotham has been on a tear throughout the Gophers’ last eight games, batting .731 (19-for-26), with 12 RBIs and three home runs, including a walk-off homer in Saturday’s 5-4 win over Indiana.

These numbers have earned the Tallahassee, Fla., native Big Ten player of the week honors the last two Mondays and national co-player of the week last week.

The work began before Minnesota’s doubleheader with North Dakota State on April 14. Higginbotham especially credited the work done on the tee.

“That’s where all the hitting comes from,” she said. “All the good hitters start out on the tee, and that’s where you can really concentrate on your fundamentals.

“I’ve always hit off the tee, but I spent extra time on the tee.”

She also said her time with the tee showed her exactly what she needed to do – in this case, make the swing shorter and more compact.

In addition to the tee time and extra hitting, Bernstein had Higginbotham, who is one of the taller players on the Gophers roster at just under 6 feet, widen her stance at the plate.

“Anytime you have a taller kid, they’re farther away from the strike zone when they’re completely standing up,” Bernstein said. “What we did was we widened her stance a little bit, bent her knees and almost gave her a place where she could start in the same exact muscle memory every single time she got in the box.”

Bernstein took this approach because of Higginbotham’s past history in golf, a sport in which she was a three-time consecutive qualifier for the Florida state tournament.

“You don’t change your golf swing every single time you step into the tee box,” Bernstein said.

Although the extra plate work was important, physical effort alone did not lead to Higginbotham’s recent breakout.

She also took advantage of her ability to keep an even keel during the tough times at the plate, an outlook preached by the team’s coaches – along with the occasional baked-goods analogy.

“She got a little frustrated but not in terms of where she was doubting herself,” junior second baseman Valerie Alston said. “Megan just stuck to it and went back to basics, and look what she did.”