Big Ten softball's best hitter? She plays shortstop for the Gophers.

One of Jess Oakland's goals for her freshman year with the Gophers was to have a batting average around .600. Yes, you read that right.

The former California Ms. Softball aimed to dominate college ball right away like she did in high school, but Oakland was shocked when instead she went through a rocky start to her first college season last year.

"I had a lot of success in high school, so I had this unrealistic picture in my head," Oakland said.

A 10-game hitless stretch tested that ultraconfident freshman, but she bounced back to earn All-Big Ten honors. Overcoming early adversity set the stage for a monstrous follow-up season for Oakland.

No such thing as a sophomore slump. The 5-9 standout shortstop from San Jose, Calif., leads the Big Ten and is tied for fifth in the nation with .455 batting average.

"Failure is a huge part of this game," said Oakland, who will lead the fifth-seeded Gophers (27-24) against No. 12 seed Illinois in the Big Ten softball tournament Wednesday in Iowa City (1:30 p.m., BTN). "It made me a better player overall. I know how to handle it better this year."

A year ago, Big Ten Pitcher of the Year and All-America Autumn Pease led the way. Now, with Pease gone, the Gophers have the Big Ten's best hitter. Oakland finished the regular season tops in the Big Ten in several categories, including slugging percentage (.926), on-base percentage (.553), runs (68) and doubles (19).

Her 19 home runs are also tied for the Big Ten lead and one shy of the Gophers' single-season mark set by program career leader Kendyl Lindaman in 2017 and 2018.

"Every freshman has to realize when they're coming to a different level that it's going to be harder," Gophers coach Piper Ritter said. "It doesn't mean you aren't the player you always were. It just means you have to find a way to compete."

Big Ten softball tournament bracket

Oakland hit .578 as a senior and hit 44 career homers (twice leading the state) in high school playing for her father, Mike, at St. Francis in the Bay Area. That carried over to her freshman year in college, when she ranked second on the team, batting .322 with 14 dingers.

After hitting only two homers in the first month of this season, Oakland hit six during a five-game stretch in early March. She then hit nine more out of the park in 13 games, which included a three-homer performance while going 4-for-4 with five RBI in a 13-0 victory March 30 at Illinois.

"She has a great eye at the bat and a swing that matches that," Ritter said. "Mainly for her, it was don't let yourself get too high or let yourself get too low."

Not living up to her own lofty expectations at the plate early in her freshman year at the U made Oakland doubt herself. She pushed through to get a hit in 19 of her last 21 games that season.

Oakland said the breakthrough mentally came with positive self-talk and other things on game day.

"A lot of it is confidence," Oakland said. "When I get into the box and before games, I take deep breaths. I kind of think to myself what I'm going to do and about my goals for the game, depending on the pitchers we're playing. I'll do that before every game."

Senior infielder Sydney Strelow said Oakland's maturity this season also showed up on defense, regardless of what happens at the plate.

"Her leadership has definitely grown," Strelow said. "She took the time to understand what it's like to have failure but also know your team needs you to be ready for your next play."