Mary Connolly is second all-time in home runs, fourth in RBIs and needs one more homer to tie the single-season record of 16.
April 30, 2015
CHICAGO -- You couldn't have asked for a better "senior moment" than the one Ali Lenti experienced last weekend at Villanova.
Let's set the scene.
DePaul's softball team needed a lift after dropping a three-game, BIG EAST Conference series April 18-19 at home to Creighton. The Blue Demons opened a three-game set last Saturday against Villanova with a 3-1 victory.
In the nightcap, they were tied 1-1 in the top of the sixth inning when Lenti stepped into the batter's box with nobody out and Megan Leyva on third base, Sabrina Kuchta on second and Brittany Boesel on first.
"When I stepped up to the plate with the bases loaded, I was really just thinking `put the ball in play to the outfield on a line drive, ground ball or sacrifice fly,'" Lenti said. "I knew hitting it to the outfield would get at least one run in and keep things going.
"It was the first pitch, and it was on the inner half of the plate. I hit the ball in the air and took off running towards first base. I ran all the way through the bag thinking I had flown out as Brittany was on first and tagging up.
"The next thing I remember seeing was the ball land just over the other side of the fence and first-base coach Tammy Williams screaming. In my head, I couldn't really even process what had just happened. But once I realized, I just started laughing at the fact that I had run through first base on a home run.
"I was pretty much in shock, and when I rounded third my dad (DePaul coach Eugene Lenti) gave me the usual knuckle pound that he gives to everyone when they hit home runs. I ran into the mob of my teammates at home plate and they just pounded my helmet with excitement. I was still just laughing, and it's a moment I will never forget. I was so excited that I had hit my first grand slam, but even more excited for our team that we had gone ahead 5-1."
Ali Lenti's slam resulted in a 5-3 win and paved the way for a series sweep as DePaul followed up with a 14-1 victory the next day. In that six-inning, run-rule game, seniors Boesel, Mary Connolly, Ali Lenti and Staci Bonezek collectively accounted for six runs, six hits and four RBIs.
With their final home game and Senior Day ceremony set for Sunday after the regular-season finale against Butler, the senior quartet is looking for a rousing Cacciatore Stadium finish.
"It's truly going to be one of those full-circle moments, surreal and bittersweet I'm sure," Connolly said. "I know I'm going to look around and be a little choked up because this place has been more than a home to me for four years, and what better way to defend our house then by dominating on senior weekend."
"I will be in awe on Senior Day that we finally made it," Boesel said. "It will almost feel like an out-of-body experience. I remember all the other senior days before me and thinking that I cannot wait until my Senior Day. Now that it's finally here, it came too quickly because now I don't want to be done."
Bonezek said she had undergone quite a transformation while playing softball at DePaul.
"As a player and person coming into the program, I was naive and never really felt I had an edge when I played," Bonezek said. "Now in my senior season, I have evolved as a player and a person. I have learned the meaning of respect, and that is something that can be carried on in life."
Ali Lenti said DePaul softball has changed the course of her college career and her life overall.
Boesel has learned about perseverance, teamwork and to savor every moment of the experience because it all goes by in a flash. She can still remember her freshman year like it was yesterday.
Connolly, who is second all-time in home runs and fourth in career RBIs and slugging percentage, has learned a lot from her classmates. She needs one home run to tie the school single-season record of 16.
"What distinguishes our senior class is that we respect each other and we respect the game," Connolly said. "This year has definitely brought the four of us closer because although these four years haven't been easy, we got through them together.
"Ali, Staci and Britt mean more to me than they even know because of what they have taught me. They have supported me through my ups and downs and are what make our class so special."
Reliving Favorite Moments
Bonezek said she would love returning to Paris and Amsterdam and duplicating the experience she had with the Blue Demons on their 2013 trip tracing the footsteps of St. Vincent de Paul, sightseeing and participating in international competitions.
Boesel and Connolly flashed back to the 2014 NCAA Regionals where DePaul overcame the odds in advancing to the regional final at Kentucky.
"We battled against James Madison University after they had beaten us earlier and won the rematch," Boesel said. "Then we proceeded to give nationally ranked Kentucky a run for their money.
"Even though the regional final did not turn out as we wanted, I felt the closest to my team at that moment because we played our hearts out and left it all on the field."
Those hearts were a lot lighter during Ali Lenti's favorite memory.
"Every year, my sister Gena composes a rap about our team in which every girl has a verse written about something funny she has done that season," Ali said. "She usually sings it on the bus on the way back from an away trip. I look forward to this every year because it brings our entire team and coaches together to laugh.
"We make fun of each other and all the experiences we shared throughout the season. It's a fun time to reflect and remember all of the good times we have had despite any losses or challenges we have faced."
Connolly couldn't resist adding one more favorite moment.
"The other memory I'll never forget was this year when the coaches got Eug the `Holy Mackerel' shirt because it's something he always says," Connolly said. "To actually get him a shirt with that on it was pretty hilarious."
The one common denominator these four seniors have in common with every DePaul softball player over the last 33 years is the Hall of Fame coach who brought them to Lincoln Park.
Bonezek: "I've had some ups and downs as a player and as a person, and as mad as Eug may have been during a game, he always had our backs on and off the field. He always values family and is extremely understanding when life throws you a curve. He definitely made me a tougher individual and showed me just how strong I can be."
Boesel: Eug's ultimate goal is to prepare us for the real world after college. He helps us mature from teenagers into young women not by babying us, but giving us tough love. It allows us to turn to our teammates and closest friends for support, which furthers our emotional connections and increases teamwork and trust.
"He has pushed me to reach my potential. He knew my abilities and what I was capable of, and was able to push me to that point---which was more than I thought I was capable of accomplishing."
Connolly: "Eug gives you everything he has when you're out on the field, and that's not something all coaches know how to do. He creates an environment that is extremely tough, but it makes the results and success that much sweeter. In those first couple months with Eug, you have to grow a thick skin. Learn to let things roll off your back and realize that you are never given a task or challenged in any way that you cannot handle.
"He has an instinct for pushing us to our limits in a way that doesn't push us too far. After four years, I feel extremely prepared to work with anyone because I can handle it. He's made me a better player and person and I thank him for that."
Ali Lenti: "Spending time with my dad the last four years as a part of his team was such a unique and fun experience. There were definitely times it was hard, but without a doubt, I would go back and do it all over again. As a little girl, I always idolized the girls on DePaul's team, and I think it's really cool that I was able to experience being a Blue Demon.
"One of my favorite things about my dad is how he is always tough when it comes to games and practices, but he genuinely cares about each and every one of us off the field. I know his softer side from being at home, but I think it comes out a lot with the team as well. He always makes us trail mix for between games of doubleheaders and was super excited to cook for Easter dinner when many of the girls from out of town came over to our house."
Just like her other three classmates, Ali Lenti will be a jumble of emotions come Sunday.
"I love the three other seniors, and they are friends I will have the rest of my life," she said. "I think our senior class balances each other out perfectly as we all have different strengths that help us in being leaders.
"I have thoroughly enjoyed sharing my four-year journey with Staci, Britt, and Mary, and I could not have asked for better people to be by my side."