Verdun Enhances Blue Demons' Softball Legacy
April 21, 2014
CHICAGO - As unassuming as ever, Kirsten Verdun has no idea of the lasting legacy she is leaving behind in Lincoln Park.
By the time she throws her final pitch as a Blue Demon this spring, the senior lefthander will have stamped an indelible imprint on the record book of an elite NCAA college softball program.
Verdun will one day realize she was the latest in a long line of All-American players who built a national power in the heart of the Midwest.
The storied tradition of DePaul softball encompasses four appearances at the Women's College World Series highlighted by a run to the final four in 1999 and finishing that season ranked No. 3 in the nation in the final NFCA/USA Today Top 25 poll. That team was led by All-Americans Liza Brown, Nicole Terpstra and Shavaughne Desecki.
It's a tradition of All-Americans from Missy Nowak to Yvette Healy, Erin Hickey, Lindsay Chouinard, Liz Bouck, Sarah Martz, Saskia Roberson, Tracie Adix, Amber Patton and Becca Heteniak. Verdun herself was the most recent All-American in 2012.
"I have never looked at my career records," Verdun said. "I don't know what they are. The other day (associate head coach) Lindsey Chouinard and I were laughing about it. She has a lot of the pitching records at DePaul. She said if her records are going to be surpassed, she would want it to be by someone that she has coached."
With seven regular-season games left, Verdun is the all-time pitching leader in strikeouts looking and career starts, and is second in innings pitched, strikeouts, batters faced and most at-bats against.
She is third in career shutouts, complete games and appearances and fourth all-time in wins, saves and strikeouts per seven innings.
Offensively, Verdun is the all-time leader in career walks and second in career home runs and on-base percentage.
"After I'm done at DePaul, I can look at all of that," Verdun said. "Right now, I don't want to be numbers-chasing. I'm more concerned with winning the BIG EAST Conference regular-season title, the BIG EAST tournament and getting to the NCAA tournament."
Verdun said she has felt better physically this season, and that has led to her 23-5 record with a 1.89 earned-run average and 211 strikeouts in 178 innings. She leads the BIG EAST in wins, starts, saves, innings pitched and appearances, is second in ERA and third in strikeouts.
The team captain from Coal City, Ill. is a big reason why DePaul is leading the BIG EAST with a 13-0 record and is 33-8 overall. The Blue Demons are riding a 15-game winning streak heading into a three-game conference series against Villanova beginning with a Saturday doubleheader at Cacciatore Stadium.
"It was a real big eye-opener last year when we didn't make the NCAA tournament," Verdun said. "We kind of took it for granted that we'd be there. It had become the norm.
"It was really disappointing, and I felt sad for the seniors. What could I have done better? The juniors last year held a team meeting after the season. This is not DePaul softball. This is not happening again. We had to turn over a new leaf.
"I didn't want to watch the NCAA tournament on TV. We did not reach our potential as a team. It was sad and really frustrating."
That feeling carried over to this season.
"In the offseason whenever I felt too tired to work out, I remembered the feelings I had after we didn't make the tournament and dug a little deeper," Verdun said. "There were times over spring break when I didn't want to work out. But then, I thought of the feeling I had when the season suddenly ended last year and that pushed me harder.
"We realize this year that nothing is guaranteed unless you win your conference championship and get the automatic NCAA berth. We were on the bubble last year, and there were several crucial losses that cost us.
"We have to get our butts in gear and play with a little hunger. Now we know the feeling of not getting selected to the NCAA tournament. It leaves a bad taste in your mouth.
"There is more of a trust this season in your teammates that they are going to come through for you. You trust that your teammates are going to get the winning hit or make the big play on defense."
That was certainly the case on April 5 when Verdun recorded her first collegiate no-hitter. She watched from the Cacciatore Stadium dugout on that Saturday as the Blue Demons put the finishing touches on an 8-0 BIG EAST Conference victory over Seton Hall that was shortened to six innings by the run rule.
"It was awesome to get my first no-hitter, but it was more important that our team got the win," Verdun said. "I've been close to a no-hitter several times, so it was nice to finish the deal.
"My teammates made it easier for me with their defense and all the hitting. I didn't have to go out and pitch the seventh inning. I wasn't really thinking about it. I was way more concerned with making sure Seton Hall didn't score any runs and us winning the game instead of the no-hitter."
Verdun was dominant from the opening pitch, allowing just two Pirate base runners over six innings. She had four strikeouts and set the Pirates down in order four times.
"Verdun had a great game even though she didn't get off to a great start," said DePaul coach Eugene Lenti, who won the 1,200th game of his illustrious career on April 16. "She wasn't very sharp in the first inning, so we sent her to the bullpen to work on some adjustments.
"We always talk about pitching to contact and letting the defense make the plays behind you. That's what Verdun did pitching a no-hitter with just four strikeouts."
Verdun's gem came less than 24 hours after pitching DePaul to a 4-2 win over No. 25/23 Notre Dame in biggest win of the season as Hannah Penna blasted a game-winning, pinch-hit, three-run homer.
"We are getting contributions at every level," Verdun said. "The freshmen and sophomores are making timely contributions, and the overall maturity of the team is different. Hopefully the senior leadership is better."
Verdun took a perfect game into the fifth inning of a 9-1, five-inning victory over Georgetown on April 13 only to hit a batter and surrender a base hit in the final frame.
"I didn't know I had a perfect game until I hit that batter in the fifth inning," she said. "I kind of scolded myself after I realized it.
"A big thing was staying ahead of the hitters. But there were a couple of 3-0 counts that I had to battle back. My screwball was working better. I was making good pitches and the defense was making great plays behind me.
"Lately, I`ve been focusing on giving less bases away. I haven't been hitting as many batters and giving up as many walks."
Verdun was Lenti's prize recruit in 2010 after the Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times Player of the Year set a state record going 40-0 and leading Coal City to the Class 2A state title. She had a miniscule 0.30 ERA as a senior with 480 strikeouts along with four perfect games and 11 no-hitters. During her high school career, she had a 72-game hitting streak.
At DePaul in her All-American season of 2012, Verdun had 27 strikeouts in a doubleheader against Syracuse and finished the year No. 17 in the nation in shutouts, No. 19 in wins and No. 25 in strikeouts.
In her final season as a Blue Demon, she is batting .336, leading the team in walks, is tied for second in home runs and is third in hits, runs and on-base percentage.
Verdun has batted in the leadoff spot most of the way as Lenti wanted someone on base ahead of dangerous power hitter Mary Connolly.
"It's a little bit different," said Verdun who had been a fixture in the middle of the batting order. "My plan at the plate hasn't changed, and it doesn't mean that I can't hit for power (two leadoff home runs).
"Eug (Lenti) said I have the ability to lead and set the tempo of a game. He said that what I do in the first at-bat---everyone sees it. If I get a hit or a walk, everybody sees that and can feed off that. If I do it against a good pitcher, it gives the rest of the team confidence.
"I like getting the extra at-bats and getting to set the tone for the offense. My home runs are down from last year because so far, I haven't been driving the ball as much. There's nothing wrong with a leadoff home run, but my primary job is getting on base."
June is fast approaching when Verdun will graduate with a degree in communications.
"I've thought about playing a season of pro softball after I graduate from DePaul," Verdun said. "If that doesn't happen, I'd like to get into coaching---starting out as a graduate assistant coach. I'd like to pursue a master's degree in communications and sports broadcasting.
"I'd love to keep on playing, but if not, it wouldn't be so heartbreaking to end my career if coaching was my next step. I have a passion for softball and would like to stay in the game."