Softball falls in NCAA tournament


Junior pitcher Kayla Landwehrmier pitched five innings in relief in DePaul's opening loss. (Caroline Stacey | The DePaulia)

DePaul’s softball team dropped two straight games — one humbling, the other heartbreaking — to the University of Kentucky and Marshall to suffer elimination this weekend at the College Softball World Series regional in Lexington, Kentucky.

The Blue Demons got off to a slow start on Friday as the underdog against home favorite Kentucky, allowing five runs in the first inning on their way to a shut-out loss, 6-0.

Missy Zoch couldn’t find a rhythm in the first inning, which set the Blue Demons back 5-0.  She settled down for the final six innings, only allowing one more run.

A six-run deficit is no easy task for DePaul’s offense and Kentucky’s defense and pitching didn’t make it any easier.  Kentucky’s Meagan Prince tossed a five-strikeout, two-hitter through six innings, walking only one (Megan Leyva in the fifth).  Dylan Christensen and Sabrina Kuchta were the only Blue Demons to log a hit in the game.

The 6-0 loss sent DePaul into the elimination bracket to play Marshall, who suffered a 3-2 12-inning loss to Illinois in their opening round.

DePaul and Marshall found themselves in a pitcher’s duel, keeping the match scoreless through three innings. 

DePaul snapped the scoring drought in the fourth; senior center-fielder worked a lead-off walk and was moved to second by freshman Jessica Cothern. Nicole Pihl popped out for the second out of the inning, but then Megan Leyva raked a double off the left-field wall to drive home Fitzgerald and give the Blue Demons a 1-0 lead.

Zoch continued to pitch to contact, getting outs despite back to back innings with errors.  In the sixth inning Marshall turned to small-ball in an attempt to manufacture a run to avoid elimination.

Marshall’s Elicia D’Orazio slapped a bouncing grounder up the middle, which was fielded cleanly by Sabrina Kuchta at second base, but D’Orazio was too fast the throw.  Aboard with an infield single, D’Orazio was bunted over to second by Taylor McCord.

D’Orazio has a reputation for being lethal on the base paths.  She is the number one ranked base stealer in the country with 56 steals through the regular season, and she went to work against Blue Demons.

Taking an aggressive lead off second base with the ball in the hands of catcher Jessica Cothern, D’Orazio took off for third as Cothern returned the ball to her pitcher, sliding in safely to put the tying run 60-feet away with one out.

On the next pitch, D’Orazio took off half-way down the baseline, trying to draw a throw from DePaul’s freshman catcher and exploit Cothern’s inexperience. Cothern, presumably trying to manage her adrenaline and find two more outs, gunned down to third, but there was no play to make.

D’Orazio turned for home, stealing home without contest to tie the game in the bottom of the sixth.

Haydn Christensen, Sabrina Kuchta and Kayla Landwehrmier all popped out in the top of the seventh inning, putting Missy Zoch in an uncomfortable position in the bottom of the seventh.

Zoch got two consecutive outs to start the inning, but two base hits put runners on second and third with D’Orazio coming to the plate.  Lenti called for an intentional walk to load the bases, trying to avoid another D’Orazio nightmare.  A Taylor McCord pop-out ended the inning, sending the elimination game to extra innings.

Once again, the bats fell flat for the Blue Demon’s in the eighth, going three-up-three-down with groundouts from Dylan Christensen, Micha Fitzgerald and Jessica Cothern strikeout.

With two outs and a runner on third in the bottom of the eighth, DePaul met their fate.  Abigail Estrada singled to left, sending Shaelynn Braxton home for the winning run to eliminate the Blue Demons from regional play and end their season.

DePaul finished their season with a 29-23 overall record and a Big East tournament title.  The Blue Demons will graduate Dylan Christensen, Nicole Pihl, Fitzgerald and two-sport athlete Ana Greik (soccer) this year.