Photo by Andres ‘Ace’ Acosta | El Paso Herald Post
UTEP Softball Head Coach TJ Hubbard announced the team’s 2021 schedule Thursday as he enters his second year at the helm of the program.
The Miners finished last year’s abbreviated season at 5-17 (1-2 C-USA) prior to Conference USA shutting down spring sports due to the COVID-19 pandemic on March 16, 2020.
For Hubbard, his coaching staff and his student-athletes, it will be a long time coming when their first game of the season rolls around in two weeks on Feb. 11 at Abilene Christian at 7 p.m. (all times are MT).
“With everything that happened last year, I’m just excited to get onto the field,” Hubbard said. “These kids, fans and everyone associated with our program have waited a long time to see us get back to playing the game that we love.”
The Miners’ non-conference schedule is highlighted by matchups against three opponents that are currently ranked in the NFCA poll. After playing Tarleton State twice on Feb. 12 and in the first game of a doubleheader on Feb. 13, UTEP squares off against perennial Women’s College World Series participant No. 4 Oklahoma in the nightcap at 12:30 p.m.
The Miners end their six-game spread in Abilene, Texas to open the season with another doubleheader on Feb. 14 against Utah Valley – Hubbard’s last coaching stop – and Abilene Christian at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., respectively.
“Both the conference and non-conference schedule put us in a good position to get challenged (and) go back to the drawing board to figure out where we need to improve,” Hubbard said.
UTEP opens its home schedule with two doubleheaders against Northern Colorado on Feb. 19 (4 p.m. and 6 p.m.) and 20 (11 a.m. and 1 p.m.).
After a 15-day break in play, the Miners return to action on March 5 and 6 with another pair of doubleheaders at Helen of Troy Field. On March 5, UTEP will face Montana (3 p.m.) and Incarnate Word (5:30 p.m.).
The Orange and Blue will play Montana once more the following afternoon at 3 p.m. and will end the day versus their second ranked opponent of the season against No. 16 Arizona State at 5:30 p.m.
UTEP hits the road for 10 games over an eight-day span from March 12-20. Its first stop is in Phoenix, Ariz. to play a doubleheader against Northern Illinois (1:30 p.m.) and Grand Canyon (6 p.m.) on March 12.
The Miners will face Northern Illinois the following morning at 11 a.m. and close out the competition in Phoenix with a doubleheader against No. 22 Baylor (9 a.m.) and Grand Canyon (11 a.m.) on March 14.
Driving just 10 miles east to Tempe for its next game on March 15, UTEP faces Arizona State for the final two times of the season in a doubleheader with the Sun Devils (3 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.). The Miners end non-conference play with another Power-5 competitor in Texas Tech, playing a doubleheader on March 19 (3:00 and 5:00 p.m.) and for a final time on March 20 (12 p.m.).
UTEP closes March 20 with the second game of the day against Tarleton State (2 p.m.)
In a switch from seasons past, Conference USA play will feature four-game series and will only consist of five opponents in the West Division instead of the previous eight.
“This is new territory,” Hubbard said. “(For) coaches and support staff, it’s a tall task for everyone. I think everybody associated with our program and Conference USA has done the best they can to navigate through the different protocols and guidelines. The student-athletes’ and support staff’s health has been the top priority at every step.”
The Miners begin conference play against Southern Miss on April 2 (2 p.m. and 4 p.m.) and 3 (11 a.m. and 1 p.m.) in a pair of doubleheaders.
UTEP travels to Birmingham, Ala. to take on UAB for its first four C-USA road contests from April 9-11.
The Orange and Blue return to Helen of Troy Field to face North Texas from April 16-18. First pitch between UTEP and the Mean Green will be at 6 p.m. on April 16, 4 p.m. for the doubleheader on April 17, and 12 p.m. on April 18.
The Miners face reigning C-USA Champion Louisiana Tech in Ruston, La. in a pair of doubleheaders on April 24 and 25. Before last season’s abrupt end, Hubbard – in his first year as head coach at UTEP – notched the Miners’ first win in the last five meetings between the two rivals. Then-freshman Zaylie Calderon hurled a five-inning, four-hit shutout as the Miners mercy ruled the Bulldogs behind a three-run homer from then-junior Ilena Santos.
UTEP’s next matchup is on May 2 at 11 a.m. in El Paso against Utah Valley. The Miners then close the conference schedule with a road trip to UTSA from May 7-9.
The C-USA Softball Championships will be held from May 12-15 in Bowling Green, Kent.
Season and single-game tickets are available now online. Limited quantities will be sold to ensure that social distancing can be practiced in the venue.
For complete coverage of UTEP softball, be sure to follow the Miners on social media at @UTEPSoftball (Twitter), @utepsoftball (Instagram) and on Facebook or click here to visit the official home of UTEP Athletics.