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UTEP Wins Game One, 7-6; Falls Short in Game Two

Kaitlin Ryder connected on a three-run home run and El Paso native Erika Harrawood earned a victory as UTEP defeated Middle Tennessee 7-6, in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader at the Helen of Troy Softball Complex.

Ryder tallied two more RBI in game two but the Blue Raiders (10-12, 1-4 Conference USA) held on to win their first ever game in El Paso, 5-2, over the Miners (6-19, 1-4 C-USA).

“[Middle Tennessee] is a scrappy team and much improved,” fourth-year head coach Tobin Echo-Hawk said. “They kept fighting and did a better job, especially in the second game.”

The series finale is Sunday at noon. Fan can get in free with canned food for Home Run for the Hungry.

UTEP 7, Middle Tennessee 6

Harrawood (2-7) won her first ever game in her hometown, hurling 6.1 frames with five runs (four earned) while striking out four and walking none.

“She did a great job,” Echo-Hawk said about Harrawood’s performance. “She got some really big outs for us. Even in the that first inning there were runners on and she did a nice job of getting herself out of those tough situations. She did it multiple times throughout the game. It was just a great and solid performance. She didn’t give up too many big hits with runners in scoring position.”

The UTEP offense gave Harrawood a comfortable 7-0 lead before Middle Tennessee made a bid for a comeback.

Hope Moreno put the Miners on the board in first inning on a groundout to second base. Moreno still recorded an RBI as Lindsey Sokoloski crossed the dish for an early 1-0 advantage. Sokoloski reached on an error and advanced to second. She would eventually find herself at third after Kiki Pepi singled.

It was in the second inning Ryder blew the game open with her second dinger of the season. The junior drove a 1-2 pitch over left that put her squad up 4-0.

In the fourth, Courtney Clayton singled in Taylor Sargent, who had led off the inning with a single to left. Pepi then used a first-pitch double up the middle, scoring Clayton and Ariel Blair for a 7-0 lead.

Middle Tennessee scored two runs in the sixth behind a RBI each from Morgan Harris and Dani Munoz. Things got interesting in the seventh when the Blue Raiders crossed the dish four more times, but Devyn Cretz notched her first career save by forcing a groundout by Kaylyn Slatter with one runner on to end the ball game.

Pepi finished 2-for-3 with two RBI (19 RBI in 2017). Sargent produced her first multi-hit game (2-for-3) since March 5 and Pamala Baber finished with a 2-for-3 outing and a run scored. Ryder produced a season-high three RBI and six putouts from behind the plate. Ryder made her first start at catcher since Feb. 26 against Utah State.

Harrawood, at one point in the ball game, retired 10 consecutive batters that started in the second inning. The Blue Raiders went down in order the next three innings before Precious Birdsong led off the sixth inning with a single.

UTEP 2, Middle Tennessee 5

The Blue Raiders took an early 2-0 lead in the second frame off a RBI each from Kristin Uselton and Keely McGee.

The fighting Miners answered with a pair of runs of their own off Ryder’s bat in the third inning. Cortney Smith led off with a single while Blair used an infield single to reach first. Ryder came in to pinch hit for Sokoloski and came up with a two-run single to left on a 1-0 pitch that plated Smith and Blair.

After two scoreless innings, Munoz doubled off the wall with one out in the sixth. Lexi Cushing came in as a pinch hitter and singled in Munoz for a 3-2 edge. After Kirstyn Cuccia popped out to second, Uselton came up with a big two-run home run over left. Baber, who made the start at left, almost came up with the steal above the fence, but she couldn’t hold on to the ball in the valiant effort.

“It was in her glove,” Echo-Hawk said. “It’s like I told [the team], sometimes when things are not going your way, everything doesn’t go your way. She had a glove on it and almost made a great play.”

The Miners looked to rally as Clayton, with two outs, doubled to left. Ryder then followed with a single that advanced Clayton to third. But Pepi flied out to center to end the contest.

Clayton tallied another multi-hit game, going 2-for-3. It was her ninth multi-hit game of the season and no. 51 for her career. Ryder produced two more hits, while Smith finished 2-for-3.

The pitching staff as a unit on Saturday, only walked two batters and struck out seven Blue Raiders. Cretz (4-5), the game two starter, struck out three in a complete game effort.

“[The pitching staff] is getting much better and much improved,” Echo-Hawk said. “We just need to play better defense behind the pitchers. Sometimes we get on our heels on defense and should have more of an attack kind of mentality.”

UTEP, however, did turn another double play in game two. It’s the tenth double play turned in 2017.

HP Sports in Depth: Miners Look to Continue Miracle Season Friday vs Middle Tennessee

The Fourth seed UTEP Miners (15-16) meet top seed Middle Tennessee (28-4) in the semifinals of the 2017 Conference USA Championships.  The game will be televised on CBS Sports Network with tip-off at 10:30 a.m. MT on Friday morning.

The Miners advanced in the tournament with an 86-76 quarterfinal victory over Rice on Thursday.  Earlier in the day, Middle Tennessee upended UTSA 86-70.  The winner will advance to the championship game on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. MT/7:30 p.m. CT (CBS Sports Network).

UTEP has won 13 of its last 16 games, while Middle Tennessee has won 18 of its last 19; with the lone loss during that stretch coming at UTEP (57-54) on Feb. 4.  The Miners overcame a 17-point second half deficit in that game to tie for their biggest comeback victory under coach Tim Floyd.

UTEP is 13-11 in C-USA Championship games, reaching the semifinals in 2006, 2008, 2013, 2015 and 2017 and the final in 2010 and 2011. The Miners’ all-time conference tournament record is 40-26 (includes a forfeit against Hawaii in the 1996 WAC Tournament).  UTEP captured WAC Tournament crowns in 1984, 1986, 1989, 1990 and 2005.

UTEP is 8-4 all-time as a no. 4 seed in conference tournaments.  The Miners are trying to make the final for the fourth time in six appearances as a no. 4 seed.

SERIES NOTES

–    UTEP leads the series 3-2.
–    The teams are meeting in the C-USA Championship semifinals for the second time in three years.  On March 13, 2015, the sixth-seed Blue Raiders upset the no. 2 seed Miners, 53-50, in Birmingham.  The Miners led for much of the game, and 35-31 with a little over 10 minutes remaining before the Blue Raiders went on a game-changing 11-0 run.
–    Players on this year’s rosters who appeared in that game are Giddy Potts, Edward Simpson and Reggie Upshaw for Middle Tennessee, and Omega Harris and Matt Willms for UTEP.  Upshaw had 10 points, seven rebounds and two blocks for Middle Tennessee.

THE DAVIS/FLOYD CONNECTION

–    UTEP’s Tim Floyd and Middle Tennessee’s Kermit Davis were on the same coaching staff at Idaho for two seasons (1986-88).  Floyd was the head coach and Davis was an assistant at the time.
–    The Vandals were 35-25 during those two years and were runner-up in the Big Sky Conference in 1987-88 while finishing 19-11.
–    When Floyd left to take the New Orleans job for the 1988-89 season, Davis took over as head coach and orchestrated back-to-back 25-6 campaigns.  Idaho appeared in the NCAA Tournament in both 1989 and 1990 under Davis, losing a first-round game each time.

UTEP 57, MIDDLE TENNESSEE 54 (FEB. 4)

–    Matt Willms scored nine of his 14 points in a game-ending 19-6 run as UTEP handed Middle Tennessee its lone conference loss of the season at the Haskins Center.
–    UTEP trailed 39-22 with 14:08 remaining.  The Miners outscored Middle Tennessee 35-15 over the final 13:46, holding the Blue Raiders to six field goals during that span.  Middle Tennessee scored one field goal in the final six minutes, when it was outscored 15-4.
–    The Miners made 9-of-10 foul shots in the second half and 15-for-18 for the game, none bigger than Willms’ two with eight seconds left that pushed a 55-54 lead to 57-54.
–    After falling behind by 17, the Miners scored 11 consecutive points to pull within six (39-33).  Middle Tennessee extended the lead back to double digits and was ahead 48-38 when Brandon Walters scored with 7:26 remaining. Then the Miners mounted their run.
–    Willms scored five points in a 9-0 run that turned a 50-42 deficit into a 51-50 lead.  When Omega Harris hit a jumper with 2:27 to play, the Miners had their first lead since it was 1-0.
–    JaCorey Williams, who was a one-man wrecking crew for Middle Tennessee with 24 points and 10 rebounds, put the Blue Raiders ahead 52-51 on a jumper with 2:09 to go. He gave them a 54-53 lead by splitting two free throws with 37 seconds left.
–    The Miners did the rest of their damage at the foul line, as Harris made two free throws with 22 seconds left and, after Edward Simpson missed a three-pointer, Willms made two more with eight seconds remaining.  Middle Tennessee’s Giddy Potts missed a three pointer at the buzzer.
–    Dominic Artis collected 13 points, seven rebounds and four steals.  Paul Thomas had 10 points and six rebounds.
–    Williams made 10-of-15 shots and 4-of-5 free throws for Middle Tennessee.  But the Blue Raiders’ other stars, Reggie Upshaw (zero points, one rebound in 23 minutes) and Potts (nine points, 3-for-11 from the field) were held in check.
–    Middle Tennessee uncharacteristically turned it over 19 times, which was the equalizer on a night where it shot 48.9 percent to UTEP’s 41.3.
–    The Miners trailed 27-16 following a miserable offensive first half where they shot 20.8 percent (5-for-24), 0-for-7 from three-point range.  In the second half, UTEP shot 63.6 percent led by Willms, who was 5-for-7 from the field.

UTEP NOTEBOOK

–    Dominic Artis led the Miners in points (26), rebounds (10) and assists (six) for the second time this season against Rice on Thursday.  The first time was versus Southern Miss on Feb. 11.  Overall it marked the fourth time he has achieved the feat in two seasons at UTEP.
–    Artis’ .769 (10-for-13) field goal percentage against Rice was his best in a Miner uniform; previous best (minimum 10 attempts) was .688 (11-for-16) at Marshall on Jan. 28.
–    Artis scored a season-high 26 points versus Rice.  It was the second-most points in his college career behind the 33 he scored versus Marshall on Feb. 4, 2016.
–    Artis’ next assist will be the 500th of his collegiate career.
–    Artis has scored in double figures in 13 straight games, a career-long streak.
–    Omega Harris picked up his ninth 20-point game of the season on Thursday, most by a UTEP player since Randy Culpepper had 17 in 2010-11.
–    Against Rice, Jake Flaggert drew his 32nd charge of the season and the 56th of his career.
–    Trey Touchet scored in double figures off the Miner bench for the third time in four games versus Rice.
–    The Miners’ 86 points versus the Owls were their most in a C-USA Tournament game.  The previous best was 85 points twice, against FIU and Marshall a year ago.
–    UTEP led wire-to-wire for the third time this season against Rice.  The Miners also led from start to finish versus the Owls on Feb. 18 in Houston, and on March 4 against Charlotte.

Miners Build Big Lead, Hold On To Beat Rice in C-USA Quarters 86-76

BIRMINGHAM, ALA. – UTEP played a dominant first half – racing out to a 49-29 lead – then played through a deluge of foul calls and hung on for an 86-76 victory over Rice in the C-USA Championship quarterfinals on Thursday at Legacy Arena.

The Miners (15-16) played about as well as could be over the first 20 minutes, scoring their second-most points in a half this season and shooting 61.3 percent from the field.  Rice (22-11) shot 26.7 percent and UTEP crushed the Owls on the boards, 25-13.

In the second half, a total of 34 fouls were called – 17 on both teams – and 43 free throws were shot.  Jake Flaggert, Paul Thomas, Matt Willms and Kelvin Jones all fouled out.  Thomas played 15 minutes and Willms played 10.  Ivan Venegas played a career-high nine minutes.

And through it all the Miners survived to meet top seed Middle Tennessee (28-4) in Friday’s semifinals.  The game will tip at 10:30 a.m. MT/11:30 a.m. CT and can be seen on CBS Sports Network.

Dominic Artis was simply brilliant for the Miners, scoring 26 points – a season-high – and making 10-of-13 shots.  He added 10 rebounds and six assists.  Omega Harris scored 21 points with six boards.  Willms had 10 points, six rebounds and two blocks in limited playing time.  Trey Touchet scored 10 points off the bench.

Rice was led by Marcus Evans, who scored 21 points.  But 13 of them came at the line.  Once again, the Miners held the Owls’ big three of Evans/Egor Koulechov/Marcus Jackson in check.  Combined they scored 39 points, but were 9-for-27 from the field.  Rice shot 33.9 percent from the game and finished 10-for-28 from three-point land.

“I thought D.A., Omega, Jake and Trey all did a great job of trying to close to their shooters,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said.  “The 10-for-28 [three-point shooting] is something that we can live with in that game.  The 33 percent we gave up from the floor is why we won.

“We had a lot of things that we had to play through tonight.  Our bigs played well, they just didn’t play very long.  We had guy after guy after guy fouling out.  Four guys were out and Ivan Venegas had to play a lot of minutes.  We had guys playing minutes that hadn’t played.  I thought what kept us balanced throughout was the guard play by Dominic and Omega.  They kept us solid.  We made good decisions with the ball in our hands.  We had to play some lengthier possessions and we ended up making shots at the end of those possessions.”

The Miners jumped on the Owls early.  They scored the game’s first nine points and led 14-4 about four minutes in.  Rice battled back and when Koulechov hit two free throws with 6:25 remaining in the half, it was a 29-24 game.  UTEP closed the half with a 20-5 run and the Owls were buried, down 20.

“[The first half] was terrific.  It really was terrific,” Floyd said.  “Matt and Paul were protectors down at the rim and [the other] three guys had the job of just trying to no-catch those guys.  That put them in a drive game and might’ve had something to do with us picking up a foul or two.  But they did an excellent job of putting Evans and Jackson in situations that maybe they hadn’t been in.

“I thought what keyed it all was defensive transition in the first half, getting back and locating those guys because they’re special in that area – catch and shoot Koulechov, catch and shoot Jackson and Evans.  Our bigs did a nice job.”

With Thomas, Willms and Jones all playing five minutes or fewer in the second half, Rice was able to get back in it.  The Owls outscored UTEP 47-37 after halftime and outrebounded the much smaller Miners 20-16.  But they never could get closer than nine points.

The Miners shot 56 percent for the game.  Their 86 points bested the school C-USA Tournament record by one.  They outrebounded the Owls 41-33 and outscored them 38-14 in the paint.  In a surprise, UTEP had an 18-9 edge in bench points against the deeper Owls.

“We rebounded it tonight,” Floyd said.  “I thought Omega had a couple of back-to-back plays in the first half – a lob pass to Matt Willms for a dunk, and then one more pass on the next possession.  He caught the ball in the corner, kicked it back to Trey wide open at the wing.  I thought the whole game was good shot versus great shot, good shot versus great shot.  D.A. was excellent finishing, excellent dishing off of takes, and Omega as well.  It was guard play, and I thought our guards played as well as they have all year.”

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