Softball reflects on outperforming expectations

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Naomi Tellez celebrates after hitting a grand slam in the Big East semifinals. (Geoff Stellfox / The DePaulia)

Naomi Tellez celebrates after hitting a grand slam in the Big East semifinals. (Geoff Stellfox / The DePaulia)

The expectations for DePaul’s Softball team this year were bleak. The team finished last year ranked 143rd in the country. They lost an all-time Blue Demon in Many Connolly, and their best returning pitcher had four career wins.

That was before incoming pitcher, Stefanie Troja, tore her ACL.

“It put us behind the eight ball,” head coach Eugene Lenti said. “At that point, we were just gonna rely on Morgan Maize.”

This came as a shock to Maize.

“(Lenti) was like ‘Hey, what do you think about pitching again?’ and I was like ‘Uh, me?’” Maize said.

In Maize’s previous season, she played second base. Before that, she played third. Her last stint as a pitcher came during her freshman year. Relying on a second baseman to lead a D1 pitching staff is a dubious proposition, and a huge gamble.

“I was the batting practice pitcher,” Maize said. After a few weeks of preseason ball, it seemed like she still was.

The Blue Demons got blown out by some of the top programs in the country. DePaul lost to both Auburn and North Dakota State by a score of 18-0.

Maize commented that she was “breaking her neck” looking at all of the home runs the opposition hit. Thankfully, conference play against the Big East began. The team began to roll, ripping off a
12-game winning streak in the Big East. 

The Blue Demons won the Big East regular season title in 2016. (Geoff Stellfox / The DePaulia)

The Blue Demons won the Big East regular season title in 2016. (Geoff Stellfox / The DePaulia)

The players, like senior Naomi Tellez, bought in.

“At that point we thought we can do something here,” Tellez said. “We all bought into that once we had that winning streak going.

“The defense started to trust the offense. The pitching started to trust the offense. If they gave up three runs we would score four,” Tellez said.

DePaul opened Big East play averaging nearly eight runs per game, more than doubling their average output from preseason action. They finished out conference play with a record of 16-3.

DePaul won the Big East regular season title and Maize was selected as the Big East player of the year. The gamble paid off, which is why Lenti compared their postseason run to playing with “House Money.”

“I kind of felt that by winning the regular season, we had accomplished a great goal,” Lenti said. In the conference tournament semifinals, DePaul lost to Butler by a score of 10-6. Despite the defeat, Lenti felt the season was a success., finishing No. 76 in the nation.

“We didn’t walk away as a loser. We walked away as a winner,” he said. “To be the regular season champion is a tremendous accomplishment. You have to be good over a seven week period, not just one game.”

The loss to Butler ended the storybook season for DePaul, and the playing career for the seniors on the team. One would assume they would be bitter about the end of this chapter of their lives. However, Lenti’s message has permeated the graduating players like a honey-lime marinade does a pork loin.

“We put DePaul back in a position that we should always be in, the Big East champs,” senior Gina Lenti said. “That’s more of an accomplishment in my eyes.”

“It’s a really tough thing to do, and we did it,” Tellez said. “That’s what we have to take away from this season.”

More important than what DePaul takes away from this season is what they retain. Next year’s senior class is led by Dylan Christensen and Nicole Pihl, both of whom made the Big East first team this year. The pitching staff will also be bolstered by the debut of Stefanie Troja, and the introduction of Marissa Zoch.

“Dylan and Nicole were extremely good this year,” Maize said. “They’re gonna be great leaders.”

But don’t expect next year’s softball team to outperform expectations quite like this year. In fact, if they were to jump 73 spots like they did this season, they would be the sixth best team in the country.