Blue Demons Hope to Sizzle at NCAA Regional
May 19, 2011
COLUMBIA, Mo. - This NCAA Championship regional promises to be a big hit with softball fans.
That's because there could be hits flying all around University Field beginning at 4 p.m. Friday when DePaul (39-13) opens against Big Ten power Indiana (37-16).
The travel-savvy Blue Demons arrived here a little before midnight on Wednesday after an eight-hour bus excursion.
They handled the trip with their usual aplomb.
After opening the season with 25 consecutive games on the road, they are 26-10 away from Cacciatore Stadium. DePaul has won nine of its last 10 games away from Lincoln Park.
"The Missouri regional field has four very strong hitting teams and is one of the better offensive brackets in the NCAA tournament," said DePaul coach Eugene Lenti. "All four teams (including No. 8/4 Missouri and Illinois State) are in the top 40 in the NCAA's RPI ranking.
"Missouri won the Big 12 regular-season title and Illinois State is the Missouri Valley Conference regular-season champion. Indiana was second in the Big Ten and we were second in the BIG EAST."
The Blue Demons are batting .290 as a team and have outscored opponents 263-165, Missouri (46-7) is hitting .306 and holds a commanding 311-84 advantage in runs scored.
Illinois State (35-17) is hitting a shade below .300 while outscoring teams 286-165. The Hoosiers have outscored their opponents 187-110.
DePaul's attack is headed by Sean Plese (.404), Alex Morocco (.399, 67 hits), Samantha Dodd (.335, 32 RBIs) and BIG EAST Conference Rookie of the Year Kirsten Verdun (.326, 11 home runs, 42 RBIs, 47 walks).
Indiana's offense is led by Sara Olson, who leads the team in batting at .338, in home runs with eight and RBIs with 34.
The host Tigers are fearsome behind Ashley Fleming (.372, 12 homers, 55 RBIs), Rhea Taylor (.350) and Nicole Hudson (.342, 11 home runs, 44 RBIs).
Illinois State features Kara Nelson (.407), Elizabeth Kay (14 home runs, 43 RBIs) and Abby Olson (14 home runs, 36 RBIs).
"We've had success against Indiana (7-3 victory) and Illinois State (10-6 win)," Lenti said. "Indiana's pitching really stands out.
"Morgan Melloh is one of the top pitchers in the country, a genuine shutdown pitcher. She's been drafted into the pro league and will do well there.
"A strikeout pitcher like her is always a cause for concern. If you aren't able to put the ball in play, it's hard to score runs."
The Blue Demons scored seven runs in the first three innings against Melloh in the Feb. 18 victory at the USF tournament in Clearwater, Fla. Alex Morocco sparked the DePaul offense going 3-for-5 with two RBIs.
"We hope to get out to an early lead, keep the pressure on and then hold on," Lenti said.
Since 1997 in NCAA tournament play, there have only been three times when DePaul fell short of the regional finals.
"Those teams that did well in the NCAA regionals always had very good pitching, played great defense and got the timely hits," Lenti said. "They were also mentally strong, a characteristic this team has demonstrated.
"Our players have gone through a lot of adversity over the last couple years on and off the field, and they have come back from a lot of deficits.
"Our seniors have earned an NCAA tournament berth four years in a row and have won two BIG EAST regular-season titles and one BIG EAST tournament title.
"They have left their mark on DePaul softball history. Now, they have a chance to leave a longer-lasting more indelible mark."
After 30 years in the business, Lenti knows exactly how that could happen.
"This time of the year, it all comes down to one thing---who's hot this weekend.
"You hope DePaul is the hot team."