DePaul Takes No. 1 Alabama to the Hilt
March 23, 2012
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - These battling Blue Demons came within one hit Friday night of stunning the best college softball team in America.
They stood toe-to-toe with No. 1/1 Alabama, never backing down in a 4-3 loss in front of a nervous home crowd at Rhoads Stadium in the Easton Alabama Challenge.
After all, Alabama (27-1) had opened the season with a 26-game winning streak and wasn't supposed to be threatened by a DePaul team that had lost in run-rule games to No. 3 Washington and No. 7 Oklahoma at last weekend's Judi Garman Classic in Fullerton, Calif.
And when the Crimson Tide's Jennifer Fenton ruined DePaul ace Kirsten Verdun's stellar effort with a grand slam in the bottom of the fifth inning, the partisans figured their Tide was rolling again.
They never imagined that a freshman such as Paige Peterson could deliver a two-out, two-run double an inning later.
The Blue Demons had runners on second and third with one out, but Alabama relief pitcher Leslie Jury came on and struck out Mary Connolly and Braget for the save.
"With two strikes, I was just trying to get a good look at the pitch and keep my back knee down," Peterson said. "I hit it hard and thought it was going foul. But it stayed fair right down the left-field line.
"Everyone on our team was a lot more excited. We realized we could play with the No. 1 team. Last weekend, we were a bit overwhelmed with all the highly ranked teams we were playing.
"Tonight, we were a lot better prepared. Having faced top teams in California got us ready for Alabama."
Verdun did a nice job holding down an offense that was averaging eight runs per game. She had a two-hit shutout going into the fifth inning when two bunt singles and a bloop hit preceded the blast.
"That was tough for Verdun," said DePaul coach Eugene Lenti. "She did well, and really only made one bad pitch. On that bloop hit to right, we were playing too far back."
Hannah Penna came on in relief of Verdun and blanked the Crimson Tide over the final two innings.
"We did a lot of good things tonight," Lenti said. "Alabama is a very good team---but so are we. In that last inning, we had them on the ropes but just couldn't finish them off.
"The difference between tonight and last weekend was that our pitching had to be better, and it was against Alabama."
Lenti enjoyed watching Peterson hang tough.
"She really battled in that at-bat," Lenti said. "Paige stayed with the pitch and drove it down the line. Kirsten also had a great at-bat in the seventh and came through with a big hit.
"Defense, pitching, timely hitting---overall, we really had a good night."
The Blue Demons face Longwood at 11 a.m. on Saturday, followed by a rematch against Alabama at 1:30 p.m.
NOTES: The Blue Demons have been at their best against the best... they elevated their game in a 2-0 loss to No. 1 California Feb. 17 at the Louisville Slugger Desert Classic in Las Vegas... against the Crimson Tide, Verdun was 2-for-3 with a double, a walk, an RBI and a run scored... Dodd was 1-for-1 with three walks... Peterson was 1-for-3 with a double and two RBIs... Connolly and Bree Brown each went 1-for-3... DePaul matched Alabama hit-for-hit as both teams finished with six... Verdun pitched four innings, giving up four runs on six hits with three strikeouts and three walks... Penna gave up just one walk with no runs or hits in her two innings of work.