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DePaul Ready for Huge BIG EAST Weekend Series Against No. 24/24 USF
Kirsten Verdun will lead the Blue Demons against No. 24/24 USF in a three-game, weekend series at Cacciatore Stadium.


Kirsten Verdun will lead the Blue Demons against No. 24/24 USF in a three-game, weekend series at Cacciatore Stadium.

April 16, 2013

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CHICAGO - DePaul is headed for a huge BIG EAST Conference showdown with No. 24/24 USF this weekend at Cacciatore Stadium.

But before the pivotal three-game series that begins with a noon Saturday doubleheader, the Blue Demons will visit in-state rival Illinois (11-25) for a 4 p.m. nonconference game on Wednesday.

That will be the precursor to the battle for first place in the BIG EAST as USF will come to town with a 35-12 record, 13-1 in the conference. DePaul (23-14), Louisville and Notre Dame are all tied for second at 10-1 in league play.

"USF leads the league, and we have a big challenge ahead of us," said DePaul coach Eugene Lenti. "If we can execute the way we're capable of, keep hitting like we have in recent games and get solid, consistent performances out of our pitchers, we're going to be successful."

Saturday's opener against USF is DePaul's "Pink Game" with the Blue Demons participating in a nationwide "StrikeOut Cancer" fund-raising and awareness initiative promoting breast cancer education and healthy living through the partnership of the American Cancer Society and National Fastpitch Coaches Association.

DePaul Athletics is a partner in this initiative with the university's chapter of Colleges Against Cancer, and a cancer survivor and member of Colleges Against Cancer will be recognized and throw out the ceremonial first pitch.

A representative of the Illinois Division of the American Cancer Society will be at the game distributing materials and answering questions. Fundraising will include straight donations, sales of T-shirts, pink sunglasses and pink pom-pons as well as a raffle drawing every inning.

"We are glad to do anything we can to help this extremely valuable cause'" Lenti said. "This initiative does so much from an awareness and fundraising point of view. We definitely want to do our part in making this a nationwide success."

Pitching will be the key to success against USF as the Bulls are outscoring their opponents 203-84 and hold a 40-11 advantage in home runs. They also have 183 RBIs to just 69 for the opposition.

But Lenti believes USF's greatest asset is its pitching staff headed by ace Sara Nevins who is 18-5 with a 0.96 earned-run average and 180 strikeouts in 145.1 innings.

In addition, Lindsey Richardson is 11-4 with a 1.16 ERA and 167 strikeouts in 115 innings.

"USF wins with their pitching," Lenti said. "Sara Nevins is one of the best pitchers in the country. She has been the BIG EAST Pitcher of the Week the last two weeks.

"We've had some success against her in the past. It's up to our batters to stay focused and battle to give us some runs."

The Blue Demons are batting .305 as a team compared to .264 for USF, and DePaul has outscored teams 209-149. Kirsten Verdun leads the regulars batting .362 while Allie Braden is hitting .355 and Mary Connolly .336 with 10 home runs and 32 RBIs.

In BIG EAST play, DePaul leads the league in home runs, RBIs, hits, runs, total bases and slugging percentage.

In the pitching circle for all games, Verdun is 15-8 with a 2.27 ERA and 156 strikeouts in 148 innings. Hannah Penna is 8-5 with a 3.32 ERA.

"I'm comfortable with the way our defense is playing, and our offense has been getting the job done," Lenti said. "This whole week comes down to how well we pitch. At this point, it comes down to our pitchers executing.

"If our offense is a little slow to get going, our pitchers have to hold down the other team. If mistakes are made in the field, it's their job to pitch around them.

"Our pitchers are an experienced group, and they know what they have to do."

The Fighting Illini will be looking to reverse a rough stretch that has the Big Ten team losing nine in a row and 13 of its last 14. DePaul lost 4-1 to Illinois on Feb. 16 at the Hilton Houston Plaza Invite.

"Every game now is really important," Lenti said. "We're trying to get as high as we can in the RPI ratings and also improve our standing in the BIG EAST.

"Every game from this point on is like a playoff game. There's only three weeks of the regular season left. In order to close out strong, you have to play every opponent like it's the postseason.

"These last three weeks are all about building our resume to give ourselves a better opportunity to make it into the NCAA tournament."