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The UTEP softball team will look to rebound from 2017 as it opens the new campaign against Southeastern Conference program (RV) Missouri on Friday, February 9 (11:30 a.m. MT) at the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Ariz.
UTEP head coach Tobin Echo-Hawk is in her fifth season at UTEP and is optimistic heading into the new campaign.
“This is a great group of kids, they’ve really gelled well,” Echo-Hawk said. “It’s a whole different feel from what we’ve had in the past. We’re talented and we probably have more depth than we’ve had in a long time. Hopefully things go the way we want them to, but it’s the first weekend and there will be some ups and downs, and things we need to work on. This group is willing to work.”
The Miners will commence the new season in Tempe for a second season in a row and third time in the last four campaigns. The Orange and Blue will play one game on Friday, but will play a pair of contests on Saturday (Feb. 10), the first against Saint Mary’s College (11:30 a.m. MT) and the second versus no. 3 Oregon (7:45 p.m.) and another two contests on Sunday, against UC Davis (11:30 a.m.) and versus San Jose State (2 p.m. MT).
After making the Conference USA Tournament in 2016, the Miners took a step back in 2017, winning 12 games overall and six contests in C-USA action.
UTEP will return three seniors in Courtney Clayton, Kaitlin Ryder and Taylor Sargent, while Linda Garcia, who missed all of 2017 due to a season-ending injury, returns to the field as a redshirt junior. Echo-Hawk, after losing a trio of senior pitchers following the 2017 season, will see help in the circle as transfers Kira McKechnie (Fresno State) and Julia Wright (Ranger College) will make their UTEP debuts.
New pitching coach Erika Bennett, who was officially added to the staff on July 31, 2017, will direct the hurlers, who also include sophomores Devyn Cretz and Allie Johnson, this Spring.
The Miners have a solid core of juniors as eight of them will grace the roster in 2018. Cortney Smith, a 2018 Preseason All-C-USA honoree, and Lindsey Sokoloski, who ranked no. 1 in the nation in toughest to strikeout, are two juniors in particular who produced breakout numbers during their respective sophomore seasons. Smith was named to the All-C-USA second team after leading the team in hitting (.364) and home runs (eight). Sokoloski only struck out once in 136 at bats.
UTEP fans will also see six other new Miners as five freshmen and a transfer will look to give the program a lift. Junior transfer Kacey Duffield, after combining for 31 home runs and 126 RBI in two seasons at Indian Hills CC, will provide more ‘pop’ to the Miners’ offense.
Jordyn Quevedo and Ilena Santos both played together at Canyon del Oro High School in Tucson, Ariz., while Brianna Hill and Arianna Valles are looking to contribute right away. Ruby Sanchez, after missing all of 2017 due to injury, will make her way onto the field in 2018.
***Miners In Depth
ALL-TIME SERIES VS. MISSOURI
The Tigers own a 2-0 record against the Miners. UTEP fell in a pair of contests to Missouri on March 21, 2016 at the Helen of Troy Softball Complex – 15-4 (5) in game one and 10-0 (5) in game two. In game one, Taylor Sargent registered a pair of doubles in as many at bats, while producing an RBI in the first and third innings. Sargent also scored a run in the third frame. Courtney Clayton and Kaitlin Ryder also recorded a hit each in the first contest. In game two, Cortney Smith recorded UTEP’s lone hit, a single to second base in the third inning.
SCOUTING (RV) MISSOURI
The Tigers, who are receiving votes in the preseason 2018 USA Today/NFCA Top 25 Coaches Poll, concluded their 2017 season with a 29-28 record overall and advancing to their 11th consecutive NCAA Regional Tournament. Mizzou was ranked fourth in SEC action connecting on 52 home runs. The Tigers registered a .280 batting average and 80 stolen bases. The 1.40 stolen bases p/g ranked 52nd nationally. Returning sophomore Braxton Burnside led the way for the Tigers with 12 home runs and 10 doubles notching a spot on the 2017 Freshman All-SEC team. Junior Regan Nash was the team’s top hitter with a .340 average, 49 hits and 28 runs. Nash was also named to the All-SEC Second Team. Redshirt junior Madi Norman served as the Tiger’s No. 1 starting pitcher finishing 7-10 with a 4.08 ERA and 89 strikeouts in 108 innings pitched.
ALL-TIME SERIES VS. SAINT MARY’S COLLEGE
The Miners and Gaels have split their four meetings, as Saint Mary’s College has won the past two contests. The two programs met last season (Feb. 10) in Tempe, Ariz. SMC defeated UTEP, 3-1, after Cara DiMercurio connected on a triple that scored two runs in the sixth. The Gaels got on the board first when Bailey Lotz drove in run with a single up the middle in the top fourth. The Miners answered and tied the contest in the home half when Mallorie Cross singled in a run with an infield hit. Taylor Sargent went 3-for-3, while Cross went 2-for-3 with her first career RBI.
SCOUTING SAINT MARY’S COLLEGE
The Gaels finished 17-31 in 2017. Saint Mary’s struggled on offense as the team hit .237 with only eight combined home runs. The Gaels scored 113 runs and stole 28 bases. All-WCC first team honoree sophomore Nikki Alexander, during her first year, led SMC with a .355 average (50-141) and scored a team-best 24 runs, while gathering 15 RBI, seven doubles and a pair of triples. The pitching staff posted solid numbers as it ranked second in the West Coast Conference with a 2.65 ERA. Senior Katlyn Whitt (6-10 in 2017) returns after she posted a 2.57 ERA in 100.2 innings. Whitt earned an All-WCC honorable mention after her junior season performance. Sophomore pitcher Eryn McCoy also returns after she posted a 2.98 ERA in 51.2 innings of work.
ALL-TIME SERIES VS. OREGON
The Ducks or 2-0 against the Miners. The two programs first met on Feb. 19, 2006 in Las Vegas, Nev., as no. 18 Oregon defeated UTEP, 8-0 (5). In a more competitive game, Oregon edged UTEP, 4-2, on Feb. 7, 2009 in Tempe, Ariz. With the Miners down 4-0, Camilla Carrera connected on a two-run home run in the sixth. Amber Bennett got a hold of a two-out double in the seventh, but Stacie Townsend flied out to end the contest.
SCOUTING NO. 3 OREGON
The Ducks will open the new campaign ranked no. 3 in the 2018 USA Today/NFCA Top 25 Coaches Poll after an outstanding 2017 season. Oregon advanced to the 2017 NCAA Softball Tournament before falling to eventual national champion Oklahoma and finished with an impressive 54-8 overall record. The Ducks hit .324 as a team – ranking 10th in the nation and second in the Pac-12. Oregon scored 399 runs as it ranked seventh nationally, averaging 6.44 runs per game. The Ducks combined for 46 long balls, 68 doubles and 11 triples in 2017. Four Ducks were also named to the USA Softball Player of the Year Watch List. Pitchers Maggie Balint and Megan Kleist plus outfielder Alexis Mack and transfer infielder DJ Sanders were all selected to the 50-player preseason watch list. Balint (21-3 last season), who was on a Ducks’ staff that ranked fifth nationally in ERA (1.41) in 2017, was one of three finalists for the national freshman of the year award a season ago, when she ranked second in the Pac-12 with a 1.22 ERA. Kleist led the Ducks with 161 Ks, while Mack led the Pac-12 with 28 stolen bags and tied for the conference-lead with a .424 batting average. Sanders had a big junior season at Louisiana last year, leading the NCAA with 29 dingers, 82 RBI and a 1.013 slugging percentage.
ALL-TIME SERIES VS. UC DAVIS
The Aggies hold a 2-1 edge on the Miners. The two programs last met on Feb. 9, 2013 with a 5-3 UC Davis victory in Fresno, Calif. Current graduate assistant Kawehiokalani Netane picked up her fifth-career hit in that contest. UTEP defeated UC Davis 8-2 on Feb. 15, 2008 in Las Vegas, Nev. Amber Bennett and Andi Zolton each recorded a pair of RBI in the contest. UC Davis defeated UTEP, 6-5, in the two programs’ first ever meeting on Feb. 17, 2006 (Las Vegas).
SCOUTING UC DAVIS
The Aggies finished 22-32 in 2017. UCD hit .269 with 15 home runs last year and was outscored 240-207 runs. UC Davis lost its top four hitters from a season ago as senior Ashley Lotoszynski returns for her senior season after leading the Aggies in RBI (30) and doubles (10) in 2017. Lotoszynski ranked fifth on the team in hitting with a .259 average and tied for the team lead with five home runs. Sophomore Maddie Rojas returns after tallying 20 RBI and connecting on a pair of dingers. Junior Alex Sotomayor recorded 17 RBI and scored 19 runs. The pitching staff posted a team ERA of 3.57 as sophomore hurler Katie Kibby returns. Kibby, who earned an All-Big West Conference honorable mention and was named to the Big West Conference All-Freshman team, led the Aggies in wins (15-9), innings pitched (166.0), appearances (32), starts (29) and strikeouts (80).
ALL-TIME SERIES VS. SAN JOSE STATE
The Spartans own a 10-4 record against the Miners. San Jose State has won the last trio of contests, as UTEP fell to SJSU, 4-1, last season (Feb. 19) in Las Vegas, Nev. The Spartans scored three runs in the second and were carried by their pitching the rest of the way. Cortney Smith connected on a solo home run in the fourth inning, her first of 2017. The Miners last defeated the Spartans on Feb. 25, 2010, a 7-4 final in El Paso.
SCOUTING SAN JOSE STATE
The Spartans finished 37-19 overall after advancing to the 2017 NCAA Softball Tournament. SJSU hit .292 as a team and connected on 24 home runs. The Spartans outscored their opponents 257-192 last year. Sophomore Cassidy Clark produced a stellar freshman season after leading the team in hitting with a .371 (53-143) average, while compiling 26 RBI, 22 runs, seven doubles and two dingers. Clark was named first team All-Mountain West following her first campaign. Junior Madison Aurin, who was also named first team All-Mountain West, ranked first on the squad in hits (63), doubles (12) and RBI (33). Aurin hit .354 – second best average on the team, while scoring 25 runs. Sophomore Georgia Blair, a second team All-Mountain West selection, led the team with six home runs. Blair hit .350 with 20 runs, eight doubles, a triple and 22 RBI. The Spartans, which posted a 3.00 team ERA, lose leading pitcher from a year ago Katelyn Linford (24-8) and her 2.45 ERA, and Colette Riggs (10-5) and her 2.32 ERA. The two hurlers combined for 317.0 innings in 2017.
- 1 RANKS NO. 1
Junior Lindsey Sokoloski, who dons the no. 1 UTEP jersey, was the national leader in toughest to strikeout during the 2017 campaign. Sokoloski only struck out once in 136 at bats, while also producing a .316 batting average (43 hits) with three doubles and a pair of triples. Sokoloski is the first ever Miner to rank first in the nation and one of 19 student-athletes to have struck out only once or no times during a single season since 1989.
UTEP only struck out 173 times, ranking first in Conference USA. Lindsey Sokoloski ranked no. 1 nationally in toughest to strikeout (one K in 136 at bats), while Courtney Clayton (five K’s in 159 at bats) ranked 23rd and Taylor Sargent (five K’s in 132 at bats) ranked 34th. WKU struck out 348 times to lead the league.
Since the arrival of fifth-year head coach Tobin Echo-Hawk, UTEP is hitting .296. Last season, the Miners hit .299, the third best average in program history, while ranking 49th nationally and third in Conference USA. Under Echo-Hawk, UTEP hit a school record .306 in 2016.
SIX IN THE TOP 25
Five Miners ranked in the top 25 in Conference USA in batting during the 2017 season. Cortney Smith ranked 12th (.364 avg.), Kaitlin Ryder ranked 13th (.354 avg.), Kiki Pepi ranked 14th (.352), Taylor Sargent ranked 20th (.326 avg.), Lindsey Sokoloski ranked 24th (.316 avg.) and Courtney Clayton ranked 25th (.314 avg.).
A TRIO OF ALL-CONFERENCE PLAYERS IN ‘17
Three UTEP Miners, seniors Kaitlin Ryder and Taylor Sargent, and junior Cortney Smith earned spots on the All-Conference USA second team following the 2017 season. Smith ranked 12th in C-USA and led the Miners with a career-best .364 batting average, while also leading the squad with a career-high eight home runs. Ryder ranked second on the team with a career-high .354 batting average, while ranking second on the team in home runs (five) and RBI (28). Sargent also set a career high in hitting with a .326 batting average, while leading the team with three triples. It’s the first time since 2008 that the Miners produced a trio of all-conference players – Camilla Carrera and Stacie Townsend made first team, while Amber Bennett was named second team. Under Tobin Echo-Hawk, it’s the second time a trio of Miners earned postseason honors as Kawehiokalani Netane was named first team, Ashley Eldridge second team and Courtney Clayton to the all-freshman team.
Senior Courtney Clayton was named to the Conference USA All-Academic team in 2017. Clayton posted a 3.87 GPA in health promotion, while also earning NFCA All-America Scholar-Athlete honors (3.5 GPA or higher) along with Pamala Baber, Mariah Ellis, Kaitlin Fifield, Allie Johnson, Kaitlin Ryder and Ruby Sanchez. Twelve student-athletes were named to the C-USA Commissioner’s Honor Roll – Baber, Ariel Blair, Clayton, Devyn Cretz, Ellis, Fifield, Linda Garcia, Erika Harrawood, Johnson, Bryanna Molina, Ryder and Sanchez. Baber, Clayton, Ellis, Johnson and Sanchez earned C-USA Academic Medals.
UTEP has been one of the top defensive teams nationally when it comes to turning double plays. For a second consecutive season, the Miners turned a school record 30 double plays, while leading Conference USA and finishing ranked tied for third nationally with .63 double plays turned per game. UTEP set the program record in 2016 with its 30 double plays and ranked tied for seventh nationally in double plays per game (.55). Taylor Sargent ranked tied for fourth in C-USA in fielding double plays (15).
CORTNEY SMITH: 2018 PRESEASON ALL-CONFERENCE USA
Junior Cortney Smith was named to the All-Conference USA second team in her stellar second season with the Miners. The native of Moreno Valley, Calif., produced career highs in batting (.364), runs (26), hits (47), home runs (eight), doubles (nine), triples (one), slugging (.636) and on-best percentage (.438). In 24 C-USA games played, Smith led the squad with a .414 (29-70) batting average, which also ranked sixth in league only games. Defensively, Smith almost cut her errors in half from her freshman season, while sporting a higher fielding percentage than her first campaign.
Senior Kaitlin Ryder, after being named 2017 Preseason All-Conference USA, was named to the All-C-USA second team following her junior season. The native of Chatsworth, Calif., hit a career-high .354 (51-144), while tallying 28 RBI (second most on the team) and five long balls. In 24 league games played, Ryder hit .372 (29-78) and ranked second with 14 RBI. Ryder’s career-high five RBI on a 3-for-3 performance led the Miners past Southern Miss, 12-2, on March 25, while her career-best pair of home runs at Incarnate Word surged her squad past the Cardinals, 11-3, on April 3.
SARGE FINISHES STRONG
Senior Taylor Sargent got off to a slow start in 2017, hitting .250 through the first 26 games of her junior campaign. The native of Albuquerque, N.M., then blazed through the season as her bat caught fire. After going hitless during the Southern Miss series (March 25-26), Sargent produced a .579 batting average (11-for-19) in San Antonio, Texas, during a five-game stretch. Sargent produced eight hits on 13 at bats at UTSA and another three knocks at Incarnate Word. During the last 17 contests, Sargent hit .429 with 12 RBI and three triples. On the season, Sargent hit a career-high .326 with 19 RBI, also a career best.
COURT’S IN SESSION
Senior Courtney Clayton has been one of the most consistent UTEP softball players in program history, despite her numbers dropping from her 2016 Conference USA Player of the Year season, the native of Cornelius, Ore., still produced solid numbers in 2017. Clayton will enter her senior campaign ranked fourth on the program’s all-time hitting list with a .349 career average. Clayton ranks sixth with 101 career runs, needing seven runs to move to fifth. Her 180 career hits rank fifth, needing eight to move to fourth. Clayton is tied for fourth with 38 doubles, needing two to move to third all-time. Clayton has produced 86 RBI in her three seasons and needs 14 to become only the eighth Miner to reach the 100-RBI club in program history. Clayton also has 313 career assists, needing 48 assists to reach no. 1 all-time in school history. Clayton has produced 55 multi-hit games, ranking third all-time. Clayton needs nine multi-hit games to move to second on the list.
After losing three senior pitchers in 2017, Tobin Echo-Hawk brought in a pair of junior transfer hurlers to accompany sophomores Devyn Cretz and Allie Johnson. Kira McKechnie and Julia Wright will add depth and experience to the rotation in 2018. McKechnie played two seasons at Fresno State, while seeing limited action. Wright, on the other hand, started 68 games in the circle during her two years at Ranger College. Wright posted a 19-12 record with a 3.18 ERA in 178.1 innings in 2017, while being named to the NTJCAC All-Conference softball second team.
NEW PITCHING COACH
While the Miners will see a pair of new pitchers, Erika Bennett was hired to the staff on July 31, 2017 to assist with the pitchers. Prior to arriving to the Sun City, Bennett worked in the Sunshine State at Florida Gulf Coast in 2016 and 2017. During her two seasons at FGCU, the staff posted a 2.82 ERA with only 268 walks and 515 K’s in 794.0 innings. Collegiately, Bennett tossed at Miami Dade College where she led her squad to the NJCAA Division I National Title in 2010, while earning MVP honors. Bennett compiled a 47-8 record at MDC. Bennett also pitched at the Division I level, throwing two seasons at Marshall (2011 & 2012).
Linda Garcia will return for the 2018 season after missing 2017 due to injury. Garcia, a redshirt junior, last played in 2016, hitting seven home runs with 20 RBI, while making 47 starts behind the plate. Garcia’s numbers the past two seasons on Conference USA only games have been solid as she hit .270 with five dingers and 12 RBI in 24 games played in 2016, while in 2015 Garcia hit .275 with a trio of long balls and nine RBI in 17 conference contests.
2018 SCEHEDULE BREAKDOWN
The 2018 schedule features 21 home games, including the UTEP Tournament Feb. 22-24 (first since 2014). The 21 home contests are the most since hosting the same number in 2016.
The Miners will also face nine programs that competed in the 2017 NCAA Softball Tournament (Cal, James Madison, Conference USA rival LA Tech, Longwood, Missouri, NM State, Ole Miss, Oregon and San Jose State). UTEP will also play in four other weekend tournaments/classics as the Kajikawa Tournament (Tempe, Ariz.) is on the slate for a second consecutive season, while the Miners will also play in Las Vegas (Marucci Desert Classic) for a fifth consecutive year.
The team will travel to Hawai’i (Malihini Kipa Aloha Tournament) for the second time in four seasons (played there in 2015), while UTEP will compete at the FAU Parents’ Weekend Tournament for the first time ever. The Miners will stay in Boca Raton to open C-USA play on Monday, March 12.
The 2018 UTEP softball roster features eight players from California. Pamala Baber (Rialto), Devyn Cretz (Corona), Mallorie Cross (Yucaipa), Mariah Ellis (Los Angeles), Linda Garcia (Fontana), Kira McKechnie (Sacramento), Kaitlin Ryder (Chatsworth) and Cortney Smith (Moreno Valley) all hail from The Golden State.
Four UTEP softball student-athletes are from the Sun City. Junior Ariel Blair and sophomore Bryanna Molina both graduated from Hanks High School, freshman Ruby Sanchez graduated from Montwood High School and is eligible to play this season after redshirting in 2017, and freshman Ariana Valles graduated from Chapin High School.