Softball season comes to a close in NCAA tournament
Published: Monday, May 21, 2012
Updated: Monday, August 27, 2012 16:08
The DePaul Blue Demons (36-22) and Head Coach Eugene Lenti were all but certain of where they were headed before their name even popped up on the bracket. So they were not all that surprised once they found out that they would be in the Columbia regional, hosted by the University of Missouri. DePaul made its 17th NCAA Tournament appearance and fourth consecutive in Columbia.
DePaul knocked off Massachusetts 3-0 in the first round only to fall to Illinois State University (37-22) May 19, 3-0.
Going into the tournament, hopes were high.
"I knew we were going to go there because it just makes sense," Lenti said. "It's something they always do. It [Mizzou] is like our second home. It's no real big surprise to us. It's a field we're familiar with so we're looking forward to it."
"You always get nervous if you don't win the conference tournament. As a senior, if your name doesn't show up then your season [and career] is over," said second baseman Lynsey Ciezki. "Luckily for us [our name] popped up and it's great."
Ciezki and sophomore pitcher Kirsten Verdun were named to the Big East all-tournament team for their performances over the weekend. Ciezki was excited for the possibility of playing Missouri again. The Tigers eliminated DePaul from the regionals last season. After falling to the Blue Demons in the second day of the regional, Missouri came back to beat them twice and send them home.
"We owe them some payback," Ciezki said before the game.
DePaul had the control of their destiny taken out of their hands with a 2-0 loss at Louisville in the semifinals of the Big East championship. However, a resume that included wins over four top 25 teams and one of the toughest schedules in the country all but assured the Blue Demons a spot in the field of 64. DePaul also handed Big East champion Louisville two of their three regular season losses, including their only setbacks in conference play.
The Blue Demons started off tournament play May 18 with a win against University of Massachusetts (38-11).
The Blue Demons beat Massachusetts 3-0 on the two-hit pitching of Verdun (27-13) and a late rally by Ciezki and Brittany Boesel.
Boesel led off the sixth inning with a single down the left-field line and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Amanda Mener came in to run for Boesel. Allie Braden drew a walk. Another wild pitch sent the runners to second and third. Ciezki came through with an RBI single to right field, scoring Mener. Samantha Dodd followed with an RBI groundout.
Keeping the line moving, Verdun ripped a single to center to bring Ciezki home for a 3-0 lead.
"With runners on second and third, I was just trying to hit the ball to the right side," Ciezki said. "She (Massachusetts starter Sara Plourde) pitched well with a lot of up spin and down spin.
"Lynsey, Kirsten and Sam came through for us. Verdun did a great job pitching."
Verdun's 40th start of the season equals the school record set by Sarah Martz in 2004. This was the sophomore left-hander's 19th consecutive start which includes pitching both ends of five doubleheaders.
With one on and one out in the top of the third, Allie Braden made a catch in the hole at shortstop to avert a potentially big inning.
The Blue Demons could not solve Plourde in the first four innings as the UMass ace retired the first 12 batters in succession.
Mary Connolly led off the fifth with a walk, breaking up Plourde's bid for a perfect game. Staci Bonezek ran for Connolly. Paige Peterson's groundout moved Bonezek to second. Bonezek then stole third, but Bree Brown fouled out to left field.
After the fight against UMass the DePaul team could manage but one hit in a 3-0 NCAA Regional loss to Illinois State. The second loss of the day eliminated the Blue Demons from the NCAA Championship.
Earlier in the day, Verdun had shut down No. 10/9 Missouri for eight innings—only to lose on a first-pitch, walk-off home run in the ninth.
DePaul coach Eugene Lenti did not want his team to go gently into that good night.
But the fighting spirit that had sustained these Blue Demons through some tough times and helped them earn the program's 17th NCAA tournament appearance went AWOL.
"We didn't bring any energy, and we never recovered from the first game," Lenti said. "It's always tough to play coming off a loss while Illinois State was coming off an emotional win.
"Our offense was missing all day, and give credit to Illinois State. Their pitcher Jordan Birch did a great job after going all nine innings in the 1-0 win over Massachusetts right before our game. ISU pitched better, swung the bats better and played better defense."
Still flush from the emotional win over Massachusetts, Illinois State (37-22) opened the game with Jhavon Hamilton's double to left. After a sacrifice bunt, Verdun struck out Lizzie Andrews. Elizabeth Kay followed with an RBI triple to center.
Kolby Hoffman led off the fifth inning with a solo home run over the center-field fence to give the Redbirds a 2-0 lead. ISU went on to load the bases with two out, but Verdun struck out Laura Canopy to minimize the damage.
A bases-loaded walk in the top of the sixth increased the Redbird advantage to 3-0, holding as the final score. DePaul finished up the 2012 season with a 36-22 record.
"They came out in attack mode right away," Lenti said. "That's what good teams do at this time of the year."