DePaul shortstop Allie Braden hit a go-ahead sacrifice fly in the bottom of the sixth inning and left-handed pitcher Kirsten Verdun stranded the tying run on base in the top of the seventh to lift the Blue Demons to a 4-3 win over the JMU softball team in an elimination game of the NCAA Tournament Lexington Regional, Saturday.
The Dukes season comes to a close with a 45-15 record, a school record for wins and the fewest losses to end a campaign. DePaul advances to Sunday’s championship round where it’ll meet regional-host No. 14 Kentucky at 1 p.m. at John Cropp Stadium. It improves to 43-10 this season.
Verdun earned the win in the circle for the Blue Demons, her second of the day, to improve to 32-6 overall. She gave up three runs, one earned, on seven hits. The left-hander struck out four and walked two.
Junior pitcher Heather Kiefer (Potomac Falls, Va./Potomac Falls) took the loss to finish her campaign at 20-8. She allowed four runs, only two of which were earned, on eight hits. The Second Team All-CAA selection struck out one and did not walk a batter. Sophomore left-hander Jailyn Ford (Hot Springs, Va./Bath County) allowed two hits in an inning of relief.
Braden led the way offensively, going 2-for-3 with a triple, a home run, three RBIs and two runs scored. First baseman Mary Connolly went 2-for-4 with a RBI while center fielder Gena Lenti had two hits and a run scored in three at-bats.
Leading the offense for the Dukes was senior shortstop Caitlin Sandy (Fayetteville, N.C./Jack Britt) with two hits in three plate appearances. Senior first baseman Cassidy Clayton (Acton, Mass./Acton Boxborough) doubled in three trips to the plate and freshman left fielder Tahli Moore (Sydney, Australia/Loreto Normanhurst College) finished her season with a 2-for-3 showing, including a double.
The Blue Demons opened the scoring in the bottom of the first as Braden pulled a ball down the right-field line for a triple. She game in to score on Connolly’s single back up the middle.
The game remained a one-score contest until Braden drove in two more runs with her third home run of the season. A two-out error by the Dukes extended the inning allowing Braden to pull a fly ball right down the line and wrap it around the foul pole in right for the two-run blast.
The Dukes got a run back in the fifth inning. Freshman right fielder Taylor Newton (Bradenton, Fla./Lakewood Ranch) ignited the frame with a lead-off single back up the middle. She moved to third on a double to center by Clayton and came in to score on a sacrifice fly by senior pinch hitter Catherine Clavin (Poquoson, Va./Poquoson).
Two more runs came in for Madison to tie the score in the sixth as it took advantage of three DePaul fielding errors. Ford worked a one-out walk and moved to second on a throwing error by the Blue Demon third baseman. A fielder’s choice put runners on the corners before another throwing error by DePaul allowed Ford to race in from third. One final error by the Blue Demons, extended the inning and allowed Newton to come in with the tying run.
The tie didn’t last long as Lenti led off the bottom of the sixth inning with an infield single. She moved to third on a single by Verdun to left-center field. Braden capped a good day at the plate with a sacrifice fly to center field for the go-ahead run.