DePaul Ready for Saturday's BIG EAST Conference Opener
Allie Braden leads the Blue Demons in batting average, hits, runs, doubles, walks and slugging percentage.

March 22, 2013

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CHICAGO - The first pitch of the conference season is traditionally when DePaul starts playing some of its best softball of the season.

That could come on Saturday when the Blue Demons open BIG EAST play with an 11 a.m. doubleheader at Providence (9-13).

Since 1997, DePaul (13-12) has come roaring back seven times after getting off to a sluggish start. Here's a quick rundown on those comebacks in the second half of the season.

1997: 10-10 before winning the conference tournament and advancing to the NCAA Regionals.
1999: 13-10 before advancing to the Women's College World Series (WCWS).
2000: 7-12 before returning to the WCWS.
2004: 5-13 before winning the conference tournament and qualifying for the NCAA Regionals.
2005: 8-10 before advancing to the WCWS.
2010: 14-11 before earning a share of the BIG EAST regular-season title and an NCAA Regionals berth.
2012: 16-12 before advancing to the NCAA Regionals.

"There's a lot of precedent for turning it around in the second half of the season and making things happen," said DePaul coach Eugene Lenti. "The players in our program have a history of refocusing when they get to the conference season. They're well prepared after a tough tournament season.

"This might have been our toughest tournament season overall. We've faced more Top 25 teams in the past, but those schedules were also sprinkled with lesser teams.

"This year, just about everyone we played was a pretty good team. Most of the time, we went against opponents from BCS conferences. Some of the others from lesser conferences have made the NCAA tournament or gone on to beat ranked teams."

Heading into league play, Allie Braden leads DePaul in batting average (.382), hits (29), runs (21), doubles (six), total bases (40), walks (12) and slugging percentage (.526).

Gena Lenti hit .333 in the tournament season and is followed by Megan Coronado (.313, 10 RBIs), Kirsten Verdun (.312, 14 RBIs) and Paige Peterson (.308). Mary Connolly leads the team in home runs with four.

"We had some good wins in our tournament season---including one over No. 15 Michigan," Lenti said. "There were also wins over North Carolina State, Minnesota, Texas Tech, Pacific, New Mexico State, Cal State Northridge and twice over UCF.

"We've put ourselves in a good position to do well in the BIG EAST."

But Lenti knows that won't happen without some improvement.

"Heading into the conference season, our pitching has to get better, and the defense behind our pitchers has to tighten up," Lenti said. "Hitting has not been our problem, although we could score runs more consistently.

"In our 7-6 loss to Penn State last weekend at the Judi Garman Classic, we hit a pair of three-run home runs. I can't remember a time when we hit two three-run homers, the other team had no home runs, and we lost."

Pitching and defense were the culprits as the Blue Demons went 1-4 in Fullerton, Calif.

"We are known by other schools for solid pitching, a strong defense and for not beating ourselves," Lenti said. "But at the Judi Garman Classic, walks and errors continued to hurt us.

"We've committed 36 errors in 25 games so far. Last year, we had 40 errors in 58 games. We've given up 33 unearned runs. Last year, we gave up 16.

"It's on our fielders to tighten up and on our pitchers to work around the errors."

The Blue Demon coach is confident his team will make a strong conference run.

"The BIG EAST opener on Saturday means everyone is starting over with a clean slate," Lenti said. "Our players need to just get better, go out there and show everyone what they are capable of accomplishing.

"We're as good as anybody in our league if we go out and play the right way. We're good enough to win the BIG EAST regular-season title."



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