Blue Demons Ready for Next Big Test
Feb. 23, 2012
CHICAGO - One big challenge down---another one coming right up.
That's life for the DePaul softball team as it heads to Clearwater, Fla. for the prestigious NFCA Leadoff Classic.
After facing No. 1 California and No. 24 Louisiana State last weekend, the Blue Demons will encounter Massachusetts (3-2), which is receiving votes in both national polls and No. 20/17 Georgia Tech (7-3) on Friday.
"This is the toughest schedule we've faced in a long time," said DePaul softball coach Eugene Lenti. "Every weekend brings more of the same. This weekend we're not facing the No. 1 team like California, but we're going to be playing some very good teams who will do well in power conferences.
"Massachusetts and Hofstra are among the top teams in their respective conferences, and UMass is receiving votes in both polls. Nationally ranked Georgia Tech is a very strong offensive team that has been to the NCAA Regional finals the last couple of years. Mississippi State (7-1) only has one loss and is also receiving votes in both national polls."
Overall, Lenti was pleased with the Blue Demons' 3-2 showing at last weekend's Louisville Slugger Desert Classic in Las Vegas that included a 3-1 win over LSU and a narrow 2-0 loss to Cal.
"We definitely got better at everything except one area," Lenti said. "We were outslugged by our opponents. (6-3 in home runs, 6-5 in doubles). We gave up too many home runs, and that's how we lost those two games. If we had not given up those home runs in the California and Texas Tech games, we'd still be playing.
"Our pitchers need to get better at that and give us a chance to defend the ball. How do you correct that? You need improved focus and better execution of your pitches.
"The No. 1 aspect of pitching is control. It's not only having the control to throw strikes, but also controlling your misses. You have to be able to spot the ball out of the strike zone as well. We've been getting too close to the plate and as a result, you get the long ball."
Fortunately, DePaul has also opened the season with a consistent power stroke. The Blue Demons have hit a BIG EAST Conference-leading 10 home runs in their first 10 games. In 2011, DePaul hit 30 home runs in 56 games.
"On offense, Lynsey Ciezki, Kirsten Verdun, Mary Connolly, Samantha Dodd and Megan Coronado are doing a good job," Lenti said. "Our first five batters have been relatively consistent throughout the season."
Bree Brown became the only BIG EAST pitcher to defeat a nationally ranked team in DePaul's win over LSU, and Hannah Penna had the best outing of her career in holding California to one run over five innings. Brown was named to the BIG EAST Honor Roll after her performance.
"Bree and Hannah pitched well last weekend, and both distinguished themselves in the circle," Lenti said. "Our defense has gotten better and we're making plays on the balls we can reach.
"There was one ball hit to our shortstop in the Texas Tech game that should've been knocked down and kept in the infield. Overall though, we're playing better defense than the opposition.
"Staci Bonezek is doing a nice job behind the plate throwing out runners. We were 6-for-7 in stolen bases at Las Vegas and our opponents were 0-for-1."
Lenti has a plan for his pitchers when they confront sluggers such as Brittany Bell of Mississippi State and Kelsi Weseman of Georgia Tech.
"When you've got two outs and nobody on base and one of the top hitters in the country is coming to the plate, don't let her be the batter that beats you," Lenti said about the two solo home runs by Cal's Valerie Arioto. "In both of our losses, it was the No. 3 hitter for Cal and the No. 4 hitter for Texas Tech that beat us.
"Be aware of the situation as a pitcher and understand what you're facing in the moment. You shouldn't allow hitters like that to see good pitches. Make somebody else beat you."