Softball: Huskies set for critical showdown with DePaul

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The UConn Huskies are back in action this weekend as they are set to take on the DePaul Blue Demons in a three-game series. Photo courtesy of UConn Huskies Softball webpage.

The UConn Huskies are back in action this weekend as they are set to take on the DePaul Blue Demons in a three-game series. 

The Huskies (13-10) are coming off a sweep of the Butler Bulldogs that saw them christen their new ballpark including a ceremonial first pitch from UConn president Thomas Katsouleas. 

The offense was clicking last weekend and looks to repeat that performance against the Blue Demons. Leading the way on offense for the Huskies is redshirt junior Hollis Wivell, who enters the series with a .360 average and is second on the team with 11 stolen bases. 

Wivell is one of four Huskies with ten or more stolen bases this season with the others being senior Reese Guevarra (10 steals), senior Brianna Marcelino (10 steals) and junior Aziah James (team-leading 13 steals). These four have contributed to a franchise record for single-season steals, breaking the previous record set in 1996 prior to the Butler series. 

Big East Freshman of the Week Jana Sanden also dominated last week with a three-run home run, and her .354 average is third on the team. Sanden leads the team in RBIs with 19 and is third in home runs with five.  

Also keep an eye out for junior Sami Barnett, who returned in last weekend’s series and had some pretty timely hits. She brings the power and the drive when the team needs it most. 

“keep an eye out for junior Sami Barnett, who returned in last weekend’s series and had some pretty timely hits. She brings the power and the drive when the team needs it most.”

Speaking of power, leading the way in home runs are both Marcelino and graduate student Devon Casazza, who have six each. Casazza, who is batting .200 on the season, has plated in 13 runs over 22 solid games, most of which have been behind the plate. 

While the hitting was one critical aspect of the Huskies’ sweep last weekend, there was also the pitching that outright dominated everything in sight. 

Freshman and Big East pitcher of the Week Payton Kinney could have thrown a shutout with her eyes closed. Kinney struck out 14 (really 16) hitters over the weekend both in relief and as a starter, going the distance twice. 

That weekend series just continued to show her dominance on the mound. She leads the Big East with 89 strikeouts and has a 2.45 ERA over 18 games and 13 starts. At 8-8, Kinney should not be counted out, she has thrown seven complete games and has opponents batting .193 against her. 

There is also sophomore Meghan O’Neill to keep an eye on. At 5-2, O’Neill has a better winning percentage than Kinney, but she also has an ERA of 3.11. This does not mean that O’Neill does not always have her stuff. She has thrown five complete games and has sat down 24 hitters in 16 appearances. Look for this tandem to have their work cut out for them this weekend. 

The Blue Demons (11-7) are coming off a win against Loyola Chicago after being unable to play Providence due to COVID-19 issues. 

DePaul is a team that is projected to finish second in the conference in preseason polls and they have the pieces to do it. The Blue Demons have four hitters batting over .300 in Jessica Cothern (.373), Angela Scalzitti (.322), Kate Polucha (.321) and Brooke Johnson (.313). Polucha leads the team in home runs (five) and RBIs (15) while Scalzitti has dominated in steals with four on the year. 

“DePaul is a team that is projected to finish second in the conference in preseason polls and they have the pieces to do it.”

Not far behind them are both Skylor Hilger and Maranda Gutierrez, who are both batting over .280 and can bring the heat offensively as Gutierrez also has ten RBIs. 

On the mound, the two main pitchers to look out for are Krista Dalgarn and Natalie Halvorson. Dalgarn, their alleged ace, has started eight games and is 7-1 on the season with three complete games. Dalgarn has a 4.91 ERA having allowed 39 runs (30 earned) on 52 hits with 23 walks and a team leading 50 strikeouts. 

While she can start the first game, Halvorson can take over the second game and be a solid member of the stable to look out for. Halvorson has started seven games and has gone 3-3 with a 5.48 ERA and two complete games. Over 46 innings, Halvorson has allowed 29 runs (28 earned) on 53 hits with 28 strikeouts. 

With the weekend game vastly approaching, it is critical for the UConn Huskies to not undermine some of the valuable assets coming from the Blue Demons. It appears that both may have some stiff competition among each other. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

If the Blue Demons ever need someone to back them up, they have several options. Tori Meyer has made one start, but in four appearances, she has an ERA of 1.54 having allowed just two runs over 11.2 innings. 

The Blue Demons also have the option to turn to Erin Hocker, who is 0-2 in three appearances with seven runs (five earned) over six hits with two walks and no strikeouts.  

As a team, the key thing to look out for over the weekend will be the middle innings of the game. The Blue Demons have scored nine runs in the third inning while allowing just four, and 26 runs in the fourth inning while surrendering just eight. The outer ends of innings are either split down the middle or favor DePaul, but if the Blue Demons get a rally in the fourth, then the game might be over right then and there.  

The first two games will take place today with first pitch at 12 p.m. Central for the first game and the second game commencing at 2:00 p.m. The final game in the series occurs tomorrow at 11 a.m. Central (12 p.m. Eastern). All games are available via DePaul’s website and live stats will be provided. 

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