Blue Demons exceeding expectations in new era

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Blue Demons exceeding expectations in new era

DePaul head coach Tracie Adix-Zins visits the mound to talk with her sophomore pitcher Natalie Halvorson during the second game of a double-header with Providence on Saturday at Cacciatore Staduim. The Blue Demons won both games against the Friars.

DePaul head coach Tracie Adix-Zins visits the mound to talk with her sophomore pitcher Natalie Halvorson during the second game of a double-header with Providence on Saturday at Cacciatore Staduim. The Blue Demons won both games against the Friars.

Alexa Sandler / The DePaulia

DePaul head coach Tracie Adix-Zins visits the mound to talk with her sophomore pitcher Natalie Halvorson during the second game of a double-header with Providence on Saturday at Cacciatore Staduim. The Blue Demons won both games against the Friars.

Alexa Sandler / The DePaulia

Alexa Sandler / The DePaulia

DePaul head coach Tracie Adix-Zins visits the mound to talk with her sophomore pitcher Natalie Halvorson during the second game of a double-header with Providence on Saturday at Cacciatore Staduim. The Blue Demons won both games against the Friars.

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When Eugene Lenti suddenly retired June 2018 as the head coach of DePaul’s softball program after 37 years during which he gained over 1,300 wins, there was some uncertainty as to who would take over the renowned program that had established a culture of winning.

The following month, DePaul Athletics hired former DePaul student athlete and softball player Tracie Adix-Zins to become the new head coach. Adix-Zins had relatively big shoes to fill when taking over a program that captured four Big East Tournament titles in 2008, 2014, 2017 and 2018. But now that the softball team ranks No. 2 in conference play (28-9, 8-1 Big East) directly behind St. John’s, things have slowed down a bit for the rookie under the helm.

“It’s been pretty smooth,” Adix-Zins said. “You expect challenges coming in and taking over a program that you played for, but I think our staff has done a good job and the team has done a great job of adapting to any type of changes that we try to put in, so it’s been good.”

Adix-Zins has brought a coaching style and culture to Lincoln Park that’s slightly different from what Lenti brought to the table. Much of this stems her experience playing softball at DePaul and knowing the ins and outs of what it takes to be a successful student athlete.

“Obviously, I’m a female, so there’s that difference right away,” she said. “But I think the biggest changes for [the players] is I’ve lived their life to a T, so I have more insight on the day-to-day of what they go through and how long the season can wear on you as an athlete and as a student. So, I think just from the fact that I did it before them impacts it a little bit differently.”

One factor that has played into the cultural shift that Adix-Zins brings comes from the program having just two pitchers on the roster this season. Junior Krista Dalgarn and sophomore transfer Natalie Halvorson have split time on the mound this season and have combined for a 2.75 ERA, which is second-best in the Big East behind Providence.

As a result of being short-handed on the depth chart, the philosophy in the locker room has transitioned to the mindset of being able to limit the amount of runs allowed. Additionally, Adix-Zins has stressed that if her players can get more runs and put less innings on the pitchers’ arms, then the rest of game will take care of itself.

“I feel like this coaching style, it’s very much more of an attack mentality from start to finish,” said Jessica Cothern, a junior infielder who has started every game this year. “As before it was just ‘hopefully let’s aim to get some big innings in there.’ So, with that attack mentality, I feel it’s really helped us this season grow as players and just being able to clinch some wins that I don’t think last year we would have been able to do.”

The attack mentality that Adix-Zins is implementing, such as being able to get more runs for the offense and being able to limit the amount of pitches that the two pitchers throw per inning, has come on a trial and error basis.

To illustrate, DePaul had the opportunity to mercy rule Texas Southern in the early stages of its 7-0 victory on March 1 at the Red and White Showcase in Houston, Texas. Because the offense endured a cold stretch in the batter’s box as the game progressed, DePaul could not quite complete the game as early as Adix-Zins would have liked.

“We had the opportunity to eight-run [Texas Southern], and it was like, if you have the opportunity to run-rule somebody, we need to run-rule them,” Adix-Zins said. “When you’re playing five games a weekend [and] five games between two pitchers, it’s a lot of pitches. It’s a lot of wear and tear on their arms, so if you have the ability to score runs and get out early, then let’s get out early.”

With nine games remaining in the regular season, Adix-Zins hopes that her team can continue to stay focused by paying attention to the little things. This includes softball fundamentals like taking care of the ball, not giving up extra bases and fielding the routine ground ball while also making an extraordinary play every now and then.

For the pitching staff, fine tuning the little things translates into limiting walks and home runs. On offense, the little things entail getting out of the batter’s box early when facing an opposing pitcher that has big strikeout numbers and not waiting until there are two strikes in the count to attack, because at that point, Adix-Zins said, the advantage is in the opposition’s favor.

“We definitely know we have to fill a bigger role and we have to put the ball in play a lot more and we have to make things happen,” junior outfielder Angela Scalzitti said. “Either running-wise or making things happen a little more is a bigger emphasis this year.”