Position change right on the Dot

Coley Harvey

Junior catcher Jamie Dotson finished last season with a paltry .209 batting average, seven doubles, no home runs and 17 RBIs.

What a difference a year makes.

Entering this weekend’s Big Ten opener against Illinois, Dotson is belting a much-improved .350 batting average with 10 doubles — six of them coming in last weekend’s five-game tournament in Palo Alto, Calif.

She also has already surpassed her home run total from a year ago, with a whopping five and the season half finished. In addition, she has 27 RBIs — nearly twice as many RBIs as last season’s 17.

What has led to her sudden offensive emergence?

“Well, there’s two strong theories here,” coach Kate Drohan said. “There’s her theory and my theory.

“She’s convinced she’s hitting better because she’s back behind the plate, right where she wants to be.”

Last season, Dotson was Northwestern’s first baseman, where she was one of the team’s top defensive players with a .979 fielding percentage.

“And then there’s my theory,” Drohan said. “My theory is that it’s all about pitch selection.”

Drohan said her catcher has learned to foul off pitches she doesn’t want to hit in play, and she also has begun hitting well in two-strike situations.

Drohan also said better conditioning is another integral part of Dotson’s success.

“She’s in great shape, the best I’ve seen her,” Drohan said. “She’s got more core strength. So balls that were going in the outfield gaps last year are going over the fence this year.”

Although the position change may have had some impact on her improved offensive performance, Dotson agrees with Drohan that conditioning may have also contributed to her improvement.

“I’ve been working a lot with our batting coach, Caryl (Drohan), and I’ve been working on getting myself in shape,” Dotson said.

Not only has increased offense come with Dotson’s position, but better pitching from her roommate, NU ace junior Courtnay Foster, has also come with Dotson behind the plate.

“She’s really stepped up and done an awesome job catching this year,” Foster said. “She’s done 100 percent and more what we expected from her this year.”

Foster has seen her ERA drop from 1.74 last season to 1.38 this season. In addition, Foster has given up only one home run, compared to the 14 homers she gave up last season.

For Dotson, going from first base to behind home plate has not been very difficult, because she was a catcher in high school.

“I feel like I’m back home now,” Dotson said. “I just had to refresh my memory. It’s like riding a bike. It wasn’t that hard to get back on it.”

No. 20 Northwestern (18-9) looks to get back on a winning tear when it hosts Illinois (15-11) and No. 24 Iowa (27-5) this weekend. After beating No. 2 California and No. 3 Stanford during spring break, the Wildcats dropped a game to Illinois Saturday, 5-3. In the loss, Dotson went 3 for 4. She and the Cats look for revenge beginning today at 3 p.m. at Drysdale Field.

“Our goal is to go undefeated in the Big Ten, and it starts with the game tomorrow,” Dotson said. “There’s no other game that’s more important than beating Illinois tomorrow.”

Reach Coley Harvey at [email protected]