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H-P Sports In Depth: UTEP Softball Season Starts Thursday

The UTEP softball team will commence its 2017 schedule at the Kajikawa Classic on Feb. 9. The Miners will open the weekend against a pair of Pac-12 programs, starting with Stanford (2:15 p.m. MT) and host school Arizona State (4:45 p.m.).

Day two will see Saint Mary’s College (Calif.) and Virginia.

The weekend will conclude for UTEP on Feb. 11 against another Pac-12 program in Utah. The Miners will compete in the Kajikawa for the third time in program history and first since the 2015 season.

UTEP is 2-8 all-time at the classic in Tempe. The Miners are looking to make it to their second consecutive Conference USA Tournament after posting their first ever winning league record (13-11) in 2016. Junior Courtney Clayton is the reigning C-USA Player of the Year as she hit .416 and set program records for hits (79) and doubles (21).

Senior Kiki Pepi was named All-C-USA second team after leading the squad with 42 RBI. Kaitlin Ryder and Clayton were also named to the Preseason Conference USA team on Jan. 18. Senior Kaitlin Fifield (11 wins, 82 Ks) returns the Miners’ leading pitcher from 2016.

ALL-TIME SERIES VS. STANFORD

The Cardinal leads the all-time series 1-0 after the two programs met at the Kajikawa Classic on Feb. 8, 2015. Stanford defeated UTEP 11-0 (five innings). The Miners tallied four hits in the contest as Courtney Clayton went 2-for-2. Kiki Pepi and Taylor Sargent also each connected on a knock.

SCOUTING STANFORD

The Cardinal finished the 2016 campaign with an overall record of 13-35, including a 0-24 Pac-12 mark. Stanford’s 13 victories were the fewest since its 15 wins in 1995. The Cardinal hit .232 with 35 home runs in 2016. Senior INF Kylie Sorenson returns as the team’s leading hitter. Sorenson, named All-Pac-12 second team, led the Cardinal in batting (.330 avg.), while she was tied for the team lead in home runs (seven) and ranked second in RBI (21) in 2016.

Senior Bessie Noll returns after hitting .294 with seven dingers and 14 RBI, while junior catcher Victoria Molina returns after tallying 20 RBI and connecting on a trio of home runs. Sophomore Carolyn Lee and junior Haley Snyder return to the circle as the leading hurlers. Lee led the staff in ERA (5.76) and innings pitched (155.2), while Snyder led in K’s (58). Lee and Snyder each won six games in 2016.

ALL-TIME SERIES VS. ARIZONA STATE

The Sun Devils lead the all-time series 4-3. The two programs last met on April 7, 2015 in a doubleheader at the Helen of Troy Softball Complex, as no. 19 Arizona State swept UTEP. The Sun Devils dominated the Miners 12-1 in five innings in game one, but the Orange and Blue responded with a better showing in game two, losing a close contest 13-11.

In the second game, Kiki Pepi went 3-for-4 with three RBI. The Sun Devils jumped out to a 12-2 lead, but UTEP scored five runs in the sixth, as Hope Moreno started the rally with a pinch-hit solo home run. The Miners scored four more run in the seventh, but came up short. 

SCOUTING ARIZONA STATE

The Sun Devils finished 32-26 overall and 6-17 in Pac-12 action. Arizona State connected on 63 dingers and hit .310. Despite the losing league mark, Arizona State advanced to the NCAA Regionals, going 2-2 in postseason action. Senior shortstop Chelsea Gonzalez returns as the team’s leading hitter, fashioning a .309 average while connecting on 12 long balls (ranked second), while leading the squad with 47 RBI in 2016.

Junior hurler Breanna Macha returns after posting a 7-7 record with a 5.13 ERA. Macha threw 84.2 innings, walking 30 and fanning 39 last year. The team’s leading pitcher in 2016, Kelsey Kessler (graduated), led the staff with a 16-13 record, a 2.95 ERA and 191 K’s in 204.1 frames.

ALL-TIME SERIES VS. SAINT MARY’S COLLEGE

UTEP leads the all-time series 2-1. The two programs first met on Feb. 12, 2009 at the Troy Cox Classic in Las Cruces, N.M. with the Miners winning 9-5. UTEP and Saint Mary’s met again in familiar territory as the two schools split a pair of contests at the Hotel Encanto Tournament in Las Cruces in 2014.

The Miners defeated the Gaels 6-2 on Feb. 7, but fell 11-10 in nine innings the next day. Kaitlin Fifield, a freshman at the time, made her first career start against SMC on Feb. 8, striking out nine in 5.2 innings of work.

SCOUTING SAINT MARY’S COLLEGE

The Gaels posted a 20-27-1 record in 2016. Saint Mary’s College lost most of its leading hitters, but return junior Hailey Sparacino’s 10 home runs and 45 RBI from 2016. Katie Moss also returns, as the senior led the pitching staff in wins (12), ERA (2.53), innings pitched 169.0 and K’s (130). The Gaels only connected on 14 home runs, while hitting .249 last year.

ALL-TIME SERIES VS. VIRGINIA

Virginia won the only contest against UTEP by the final score of 14-5 in five innings on Feb. 6, 2015. The Cavaliers jumped on the Miners with 13 runs in the first three innings during the season-opening contest at the Kajikawa Classic. Courtney Clayton went hitless but did tally an RBI.

SCOUTING VIRGINIA

The Cavaliers finished 18-33 overall with a 7-14 ACC mark. Virginia hit 48 home runs with a .262 batting average and 56 stolen bases. Senior catcher Katie Park returns as the team’s leading hitter in 2016. Park led the way with seven home runs and 38 RBI. Erika Osherow led the pitching staff, as a freshman, with 13 wins and a 3.07 ERA.

Osherow tallied 122 strikeouts and only 53 walks in 214.2 innings of work. She also chipped in with three long balls and 10 RBI. Senior Kaitlin Fitzgerald hit .296 with two dingers and 26 RBI (second on team).

ALL-TIME SERIES VS. UTAH

Utah leads the all-time series 3-1. The two schools first met on Feb. 25, 2006, as Utah won 8-0. The Miners scratched out a 3-2 victory on Feb. 25, 2007. The two programs last met on Feb. 14, 2014 at the Easton Desert Classic in Las Vegas, Nev. The Utes rallied to win 4-3, as they scored a pair of runs in the top sixth.

SCOUTING UTAH

The Utes finished 35-22 overall and 13-10 in Pac-12 action. Utah advanced to the NCAA Tournament, winning its first four postseason contests. Utah hit .299 with 38 home runs. Senior Hannah Flippen returns as she led the squad with 13 long balls and a .413 batting average, while ranking tied second on the team with 34 RBI.

Senior Anissa Urtez also returns, as she led the Utes with 46 RBI, while hitting .380 and connecting on four dingers. Pitchers Katie Donovan and Miranda Viramontes, both juniors in 2017, led the staff in 2016. Donovan (2.47 ERA) led the way with a 20-11 record, while tallying 141 K’s and only 67 walks in 178.1 innings. Viramontes went 9-9 but, fashioned a 2.73 ERA. She tallied 92 strikeouts and 56 walks in 123.0 innings.

PRESEASON SELECTIONS

UTEP softball juniors Courtney Clayton and Kaitlin Ryder were selected to the 2017 Conference USA Preseason team on Jan. 18 as voted by the league coaches. It’s the first time since 2010 in which a pair of Miners (Camilla Carrera and Chelsea Troupe) were voted to the preseason squad.

IMPROVED CONFERENCE PLAY

UTEP finished Conference USA play with a 13-11 mark, the first ever winning league record in program history. Prior to fourth-year head coach Tobin Echo-Hawk arriving to UTEP, the softball team had won a total of six league contests during a three-season span (2011-13). The Miners were 6-64-1 during that span, while fashioning a 31-41 league mark during the Echo-Hawk era.

Prior to the 2016 season, the best C-USA record was an 11-13 finish in 2010. At one point during the 2016 season, UTEP set a program record by winning eight conference games in a row. The Miners swept LA Tech (March 19-20), swept FIU (March 25-26) and won their first two games against UTSA (April 2).

FIRST POSTSEASON ACTION SINCE 2010

After UTEP had posted its first ever winning conference record (13-11), the Miners earned a spot at the Conference USA Championship in Denton, Texas after a five-year absence. Not only did the Miners get in, but they rallied to beat FIU, 5-4, on May 11. It was the first postseason win since the 2009 season.

The tournament bid was UTEP’s fourth, as the Miners have forged a 4-4 record in postseason play.

CLAYTON’S RECORD-BREAKING MVP SEASON

Junior Courtney Clayton was announced as the 2016 Conference USA Player of the Year prior to the Conference USA Tournament. Clayton was also named to the All-C-USA first team after breaking multiple UTEP records and helping the Miners advance to the postseason. Clayton set a single-season program record in doubles (21), hits (79) and at bats (190). Clayton’s .416 batting average is the third best single-season average in program history, while she was the first Miner to hit over .400 since 2012 and one of three to ever hit over .400 in a single season.

Clayton’s .416 average ranked second in C-USA and 46th nationally, while leading C-USA in doubles. Clayton’s player of the year honor was also the first for the program since 2012. Clayton’s glove also did work as she tallied 119 assists, the second most in program history during a single season.

KIKI KEYED IN

Senior Kiki Pepi made her mark, earning All-Conference USA second team after her efforts. The third baseman was a hoover, as Pepi set the single-season school record by recording 134 assists in 2016, and set the program’s single-game record by tallying nine assists at FIU on March 25.

Pepi’s bat was not slouch, as she hit .318 and led the Miners with 42 RBI. Pepi tied second for the team lead in home runs (seven) and ranked third on the team in doubles (13). Pepi’s RBI total ranked tied seventh with two other players, while Charlotte’s Haley Pace and Florida Atlantic’s Melissa Martinez paced C-USA with 49 RBI.

DIGGING THE LONG BALL

UTEP connected on 51 home runs in 2016, the fourth most during a single season in program history. The Miners ranked no. 2 in Conference USA behind LA Tech (64 home runs). The dingers keep increasing each season that Tobin Echo-Hawk has been at the helm – hitting 30 in 2014 and 39 in 2015. UTEP only connected on 18 home runs in 2013.

UTEP’s home runs per game (.93) ranked second in C-USA and 58th nationally. LA Tech led the conference (1.19), while UL Lafayette led the nation (1.96).

MINERS ARE A HIT

UTEP set a program record by tallying 451 hits in 2016, surpassing 2009’s 442 hits. The Miners ranked fourth in Conference USA behind Marshall (456), Florida Atlantic (472) and FIU (479). Hits have increased every season with Tobin Echo-Hawk at the helm. In 2014, Echo-Hawk’s first season, the Miners tallied 402 hits, while recording 416 hits (ranked fourth best) in 2015.

BEST AVERAGE IN PROGRAM HISTORY

UTEP hit .307 in 2016, the best single-season mark in school history surpassing 2007’s average (.303). The Miners ranked third in Conference USA in hitting behind Marshall (.310) and FIU (.325), while ranking no. 48 nationally.

Under Tobin Echo-Hawk in three seasons, the Miners are hitting .297, which includes a .293 average in 2015 and a .290 average in 2014. Prior to Echo-Hawk’s arrival, UTEP hit .264 in 2013.

SEEING DOUBLE

UTEP hitters grinded out a Conference USA-leading 85 doubles in 2016, the second most in program history and three short of setting the school’s single-season record. The Miners recorded 87 doubles in 2008.

UTEP led C-USA in doubles per game (1.55), while ranking 29th nationally. Courtney Clayton led C-USA with 21 doubles, while Taylor Sargent’s 15 doubles ranked fifth and Kiki Pepi’s 13 doubles ranked tied seventh.

SETTING DEFENSIVE RECORDS

UTEP’s defensive fielding has improved since the arrival of head coach Tobin Echo-Hawk, while the Miners set multiple records in 2016. The Miners sported a program single-season best .962 fielding percentage, set a single-season record in assists (533) and double plays turned (30), while only committing 61 errors (third least in program history).

#TURNUP

UTEP tallied a single-season school record 30 double plays turned in 2016. The Miners led Conference USA in that department, while their .55 double plays per game ranked tied seventh nationally. In fact, the Miners turned a double play in the third game of a three-game sweep against North Texas, while turning a spectacular double play to beat FIU in the first round of the C-USA Tournament.

Hope Moreno was part of 18 double plays turned, which is a single-season school record and Cortney Smith was part of 11 double plays turned, ranking tied fifth in program history.

CLASS OF 2018

Juniors Courtney Clayton, Hope Moreno, Kaitlin Ryder and Taylor Sargent came to UTEP prior to the 2015 season and have contributed right away. During their sophomore campaigns, Clayton led the Miners in multiple categories, Moreno hit .325 and led the team in putouts (322), Ryder ranked second on the team in hitting (.350) and runs scored (31), and Sargent hit .313 and ranked second on the team in doubles (15).

Due to a season-ending injury, junior catcher Linda Garcia will miss the 2017 season and will redshirt during the campaign. Garcia ranked tied second in home runs (seven) in 2016.

FIFIED’S CIRCLE

Senior Kaitlin Fifield is UTEP’s returning leader in ERA (4.39), wins (11), innings pitched (167.1) and strikeouts (82). The El Paso native tallied a career high in wins in 2016 and tossed the program’s sixth no-hitter during a 2-0 win against Texas A&M-C.C. on Feb. 26, 2016 in College Station, Texas. During the no-hit contest, Fifield tied a career high by fanning nine batters, while walking only one.

Fifield also set a UTEP single-season record by forcing 310 groundouts. Fifield has fashioned 22 wins during her career and is ranked fourth on the program’s all-time win’s list. Kelly Curran ranks third (24), while Danielle Pearson ranks second (25).

ROSTER BREAKDOWN

The 2017 roster will be composed of 22 student-athletes. Five seniors (Kaitlin Fifield, Taylor Grohmann, Miranda Gutierrez, Erika Harrawood and Kiki Pepi), five juniors [Courtney Clayton, Linda Garcia, Hope Moreno, Kaitlin Ryder and Taylor Sargent], five sophomores (Ariel Blair, Mariah Ellis, Brianna Redd, Cortney Smith and Lindsey Sokoloski) and seven freshmen (Pamala Baber, Macey Brown, Devyn Cretz, Mallorie Cross, Allie Johnson, Bryanna Molina and Ruby Sanchez) will grace the newest edition of the roster. Ellis (Underwood University) and Redd (UTPB) are both transfers, while Cretz is listed as a redshirt freshman.

SUN CITY SLUGGERS

The 2017 UTEP softball roster will list seven student-athletes from El Paso. Ariel Blair (Hanks), Kaitlin Fifield (Chapin), Taylor Grohmann (Americas), Erika Harrawood (Franklin), Bryanna Molina (Hanks), Brianna Red (Hanks) and Ruby Sanchez (Montwood) all played their high school softball in the Sun City. Blair, Molina and Red were all teammates at Hanks High School at one point during their high school careers. Miranda Gutierrez is from Chino Hills, Calif., but did play her first two years of collegiate softball at El Paso Community College.

CALIFORNIA LOVE

The current roster will feature nine players from the state of California: Pamala Baber (Rialto), Devyn Cretz (Corona), Mallorie Cross (Yucaipa), Mariah Ellis (Los Angeles), Linda Garcia (Fontana), Miranda Gutierrez (Chino Hills), Hope Moreno (La Habra), Kiki Pepi (San Diego), Kaitlin Ryder (Chatsworth) and Cortney Smith (Moreno Valley).

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