Goss: At DePaul, Verdun does job with arm, bat
May 4, 2012 10:04PM
DePaul's Kirsten Verdun. | Supplied photo
Updated: June 7, 2012 8:09AM
DePaul University softball coach Eugene Lenti recruited Kirsten Verdun as a pitcher.
No surprise there. The sophomore left-hander was 40-0 in leading Coal City to a state championship as a senior.
But there is more to Verdun than standing in the center of the diamond mowing down opponents. She also is lethal with the bat. Lenti promised she would be in the lineup every day if she was one of the Blue Demons’ nine best hitters.
“That’s been our tradition,” said Lenti, whose teams have won 1,134 games entering this weekend in his 31 years at DePaul. “Some pitchers have been our best hitters, so we have followed that tradition.”
When you review Verdun’s 2012 numbers, keep in mind the Blue Demons (32-18, 12-7) play in a strong softball conference, the Big East, and Lenti prefers a tough nonconference schedule.
Verdun entered the weekend series against Providence 23-11 with a 1.71 ERA. She started 34 games in 35 appearances and worked 217 innings, allowing 164 hits and 61 walks while striking out 216. Other DePaul pitchers made a combined 16 starts; Verdun likely will start most or all remaining games.
She plays first base when not pitching and is hitting .392 (58-for-148) with 12 doubles, 11 home runs and 40 RBI. She sports a .696 slugging percentage, .477 on-base mark and leads the team in almost every offensive category. She is a main reason the Blue Demons, whose regular lineup also includes senior outfielder Katelyn Braget (Lockport), earned a berth in the Big East Tournament and are on the verge of an NCAA Tournament bid for the 15th time in the last 16 years.
“A lot of D-I programs are not big on having pitchers hit,” Verdun said. “I wanted to go where the opportunity to hit was there, and Eug said right off if I was one of the best nine hitters, I would hit.”
Lenti’s practice system allows a multitalented player of Verdun’s ilk to work on her pitching and hitting. Former Lockport All-Stater Sam Findlay, who went on to star at Michigan and with the Chicago Bandits, is the Blue Demons’ hitting coach.
“I’ve known Sam since I was about 10,” Verdun said. “She has always been a phenomenal hitter and a student of the game. She does a great job instructing our entire offense, slappers included.”
Last week, Verdun received Big East Pitcher of the Week honors after previously being named to the weekly Big East Honor Roll five times. She struck out 27 in a doubleheader split with Syracuse and went 4-1 for the week with a 1.54 ERA and 51 strikeouts in 41 innings.
Oh, yes, the communications and media major also hit .556 (10-for-18) with two homers and five RBI.
“I like being able to pitch and hit because you can let off steam one way or the other,” she said. “Defense has always been the highest priority. But if I’m not pitching my best game, I have to make up for it on the offensive end. If I’m not hitting, I at least have to shut the other team down. Whatever is best for the team.”
Lenti said Verdun “has the potential to finish her career as one of the best in DePaul history, especially one that is dominant offensively and defensively. She just needs to continue to work hard, keep her nose to the grindstrone, and good things are bound to happen.
“She definitely is one of our top hitters. As a pitcher, she’s getting there. She has to keep working on her focus, give every pitch 100 percent of her attention. She still is a young player and is learning that every pitch has a purpose.”
Verdun throws a fastball, drop, curve, screwball and changeup. Lenti said her riseball “is a work in progress. When her change and drop are working, that’s when she’s most effective.”
Verdun made an immediate splash as a freshman in 2011, going 22-4 with a 2.33 ERA. She made 28 starts in 34 appearances and pitched 1621/3 innings. She also hit .304 with 11 homers and 43 RBI and was named Big East Rookie of the Year, All-Big East and Big East All-Academic.
“I didn’t know what opportunities to pitch I would have freshman year,” Verdun said. “I was humbled by the competition, and within our team, Bree (Brown) had been Big East Freshman of the Year and was a force on the mound, for sure. So it did kind of surprise me the amount of pitching I did freshman year.
“Now, I’m pretty well settled in.”
Findlay gets some credit for Verdun’s improvement at the plate.
“My average is up quite a bit, and I’m hoping the homers go up, too,” she said. “I had 11 last year and 11 so far this year.
“All summer, fall and winter, I worked on making sure I had a consistent stance. I felt I didn’t have a good fundamental base last year. Every practice, I work with Sam to make sure I have the right form.”
Lenti said Verdun the pitcher is smarter, stronger and better than she was at this point her freshman year.
“At the end of last year, she didn’t have the same focus she came out with at the beginning, when she was hot,” he said. “This year, after being through it, she is much stronger. She knows how to handle the travel, her studies and get the job done on the mound.”
Verdun said Lenti has high expectations of his players on the field and in their class work. When there is free time?
“I hang with my teammates,” she said. “They’re my best friends.”
The DePaul softball family is serving her well. And vice versa.