Photo courtesy UTEP Athletics
The UTEP softball team (15-31, 8-13 Conference USA) will host FIU (25-23, 6-14 C-USA) for senior weekend on Saturday (11 a.m. MT & 3:30 p.m. MT) and Sunday (12 p.m. MT).
UTEP’s seven seniors (Lindsey Sokoloski, Ariel Blair, Linda Garcia, Kira McKechnie, Julia Wright and Cortney Smith) will be honored immediately following Sunday’s game.
The Golden Panthers have a 7-5 conference record in their last 12 C-USA contests. Their 3.34 ERA is seventh in the league, and are led by Megan Kuggleman in the circle who has an 8-5 record with 69 strikeouts. FIU comes in with the worst batting average in conference (.233)
For UTEP to make the conference tournament it will need to stay within the top eight teams in the league. The Miners (8-13) currently sit tied for seventh place in the Conference USA standings, and ultimately control their destiny.
With two victories this weekend, the Orange and Blue will clinch its first berth to the conference tourney since 2016.
UTEP holds a head-to-head tiebreaker over FAU (7-14) and Charlotte (6-14). UTSA (8-13) and UAB (5-15) both have the tiebreaker over the Miners. The Blazers are heading to Charlotte, UTSA is at Western Kentucky and The Owls are traveling to Marshall to end their seasons.
A single victory will eliminate Charlotte, FIU and UAB, while two wins will leave out any doubt of a trip to Birmingham.
During senior weekend at Helen of Troy, UTEP will honor seven seniors. Lindsey Sokoloski, Cortney Smith, Ariel Blair, Kira McKechnie, Julia Wright, Linda Garcia and Kacey Duffield. In the Echo-Hawk era, the Miners are 9-6 on senior weekends. This time around the Orange and Blue has post-season implications riding on the FIU series.
The Miner seniors are eyeing a trip to Birmingham. Sokoloski, Blair, Smith and Garcia are looking to make their second trip to the conference tournament, as the four played in the 2016 tourney.
Julia Wright was a menace to the FAU bats two weekends ago. She threw 10.2 scoreless innings against the Owls, collecting two victories and a save. The senior posted a complete-game shutout in the second game of the series, and earned herself the first outright Conference USA Pitcher of the Week honor for a Miner pitcher since Stacie Townsend in 2010. Recently, the pitcher chalked up her 16th victory at UTSA, needing two to crack the program top-five list.
Kira McKechnie was a force to be reckoned with against New Mexico (4/9). The senior fanned a career-high 12 batters, the most since Stacie Townsend in 2010 (18), and tossed a no-hit bid through 6.1 innings. McKechnie’s previous career high in strikeouts was six.
The senior threw for the fourth-most innings pitched in a single game in UTEP history (9.1) versus LA Tech (4/14). In the game, McKechnie took a no-hit bid 4.1 innings, and almost willed her team to victory over the Lady Techsters.
Linda Garcia has been on a tear in the Miners past 10 games. The senior is batting .348 with four RBIs and a .444 on-base percentage, providing a spark in the bottom half of the Miner batting order.
You can count on Kacey Duffield to get on base like you can count on the sun to rise over El Paso. The first baseman has reached base in 41 of UTEP’s 46 games this season. Her stellar batting average of .394 has her ranked second in C-USA and is a good reason why as she has tallied a team-high 50 hits on the season.
However, her eye at the plate is the biggest reason why she has been a staple on the base paths. The senior has drawn 22 walks, which rates in the top 10 in C-USA. She also boasts the fourth highest on-base percentage (.487) in the league. Duffield will continue to be seen on bases this season if she can maintain the discipline at the plate.
The Miners have been heavily dependent on their two stud freshmen, Kasey Flores and Pate Cathey. Flores leads the team in RBIs (38), and is second on the squad in total bases (83), hits (47), doubles (nine) and batting average (.353).
Cathey is third on the team in batting average (.308) and hits (37). She is also the premier second basemen, and has already collected her fair share of web gems. This duo of freshmen has provided stability to the Miner lineup, both offensively and defensively.
UTEP has never had a pair of freshmen land on the Conference USA All-Freshman Team. We may be seeing history come awards’ season.
Kasey Flores is amongst the best freshmen in all of Conference USA. She leads all newbies in RBIs (38). She is second batting average (.353), slugging percentage (.624), total bases (83), runs scored (30), hits (47) and home runs (nine).
She is the only freshman in the conference to display an ability to bat for average and power at the plate, as well as the only one to rank in the top two in all eight of the above categories.
Pate Cathey has had an amazing freshman season as of late. In her last 12 games she is batting .350 with 14 hits, two doubles and three RBIs. The second baseman has also not committed an error with 26 putouts and 12 assists during this stretch. It is safe to say that the Miners are relying heavily on the freshman both offensively and defensively as they approach the end of conference play.
The Miners already boast two player of the week and one pitcher of the week honorees by conference USA this season. The first being freshman Kasey Flores who posted an outstanding opening weekend with a .643 batting average, three home runs, nine hits and 10 RBI. Then, senior Kacey Duffield was given the honor after the first weekend of conference play.
Duffield hit .643 with nine hits, eight RBI, two home runs and a .706 on-base percentage. Julia Wright is the latest to be recognized by the league, and the first Miner pitcher to do so since Kaitlin Fifield (2016).
The senior threw 10.2 scoreless innings, earning two victories and one save.
UTEP is second in Conference USA with 39 home runs this season. The Miners are averaging .956 home runs per game and is on pace to smack 47 dingers this season.
The most home runs hit during the Tobin Echo-Hawk era was 51 in 2016 (third most all-time in program history). The school record is 63 done in 2009, while the Miners connected on 62 in 2012 and 57 long balls in 2006.
Nationally, UTEP ranks tied for 52nd in home runs per game.
Cortney Smith is fourth all-time in program history in home runs (29), five back of third place (Stacie Townsend – 33). She currently is tied for fifth in homers in Conference USA with 11, and is looking to become only the fourth player in the UTEP record books to record 30 or more homers in their career.
The third baseman blasted the first walk-off of her career with a homer, that just barely stayed fair down the left field line, versus Southern Miss (3/23) in extra innings.
Cortney Smith is third all-time in assists at UTEP with 355. The third baseman is six assists away from overtaking second on the list.
The Miners have been excellent in the field so far this season. They have only tallied 41 errors, which is on pace for 43 by the end of the year. UTEP set a program record with only 58 errors and a .962 fielding percentage during the 2018 campaign. Forty-seven errors would shatter this mark and show impressive improvement on an already strong area for the Orange and Blue.
UTEP is currently second in Conference USA in double plays turned (25). This is also good enough for ninth nationally in double plays per game (0.56).