File photo by Andres ‘Ace’ Acosta – Chief Photographer – El Paso Herald Post
The UTEP softball team will open its first home series of the season as the Miners will host Conference USA foe Middle Tennessee March 18-19. Saturday’s doubleheader will begin at 3 p.m.while Sunday’s contest has been moved to a noon start at the Helen of Troy Softball Complex.
Admission for Saturday’s game is $5 for adults and $3 for children, while Sunday’s promotion is ‘Home Run for the Hungry’ – fans who bring canned food will get in free.
The Miners (5-18, 0-3 C-USA) and the Blue Raiders (9-11, 0-3 C-USA) each dropped their league openers last weekend. UTEP was tripped up at North Texas, while WKU took care of Middle Tennessee in Murfreesboro.
After being on the road for 16 ‘away dates’, the Miners will play in the friendly confines of Helen of Troy Field for the next five home dates. UTEP will host Southern Miss March 25-26 and rival NM State on March 28.
“It’s just a great feeling to be at home, knowing your surroundings, for the team to sleep in their own beds and playing in front of our fans,” fourth year head coach Tobin Echo-Hawk said. “It’s something the kids really need right now.”
The Miners have dominated the Blue Raiders the last few seasons, forging an 8-1 record, but Echo-Hawk doesn’t look at past teams. She’s looking at their current roster.
“[Middle Tennessee] is a lot better this season,” Echo-Hawk said. Their pitching is better, their hitters are better and we’re definitely going to see a different team than we’re used to seeing. We just need to make sure we show up and play; our kids are not looking so much at the opponent we’re playing, they’re looking at themselves to try to get better.”
UTEP has struggled up to this point of the season, but has produced solid victories during the last month and a half. The Miners pulled out a 7-5 win on Feb. 24 against a Utah State squad that is currently 16-5. The Orange and Blue defeated Wichita State on 6-1 in Lubbock; the Shockers were 10-4 prior to the March 5 matchup. UTEP won 5-3 at NM State for the first time since 2010. The Miners won 7-4 at New Mexico on March 8; the Lobos are currently 14-10 this season. And a run-rule victory was notched against Siena on Feb. 24 by the score of 10-2 (5).
“We need to put just more than one aspect of the game together,” Echo-Hawk said. “There’s the defensive side, the pitching side and hitting side, and at any one point, we’ve been missing one of those three things. In order for us to be more successful, we have to have all three at the same time. We’re focusing on putting all three together to win more ball games.”
UTEP was in a similar situation with a 9-18 record last season heading into the C-USA home opener against LA Tech. The Miners would sweep the Lady Techsters March 19-20, which included winning eight consecutive league games from March 19-April 2.
Fans will receive the 2017 UTEP Softball schedule poster featuring seniors Kaitlin Fifield, Taylor Grohmann, Miranda Gutierrez, Erika Harrawood and Kiki Pepi. Part of the season giveaway will be 2017 UTEP Softball player cards – freshman cards will be handed out March 18-19 featuring Pamala Baber,Macey Brown, Mallorie Cross, Allie Johnson, Bryanna Molina and Ruby Sanchez.
A food truck will be available for fans in the parking lot at Helen of Troy Softball Complex for Saturday’s two-game set. Pay Dirt Pete will throw out the first pitch on Saturday, while Jesse Munoz will toss Sunday’s first pitch. Munoz has been the head coach at Americas High School for over a decade and recently won his 300th-career game.
The team will have an autograph session for all fans following Sunday’s contest.
UTEP went 1-4 as it defeated New Mexico 7-4 in game two of a March 8 doubleheader in Albuquerque. The Miners recorded a season-high 13 hits against the Lobos during the victory. UTEP took a 4-1 lead before New Mexico tied it in the sixth. Kiki Pepi, who went 2-for-3, led off the seventh with a triple to right. Mallorie Cross used a sac-fly to center to score pinch runner Ariel Blair. Freshman Macey Brown came up with a clutch two-run double to secure the triumph.
In the Conference USA opener at North Texas, the Miners fell in a pair of tight two-run contests, getting edged 2-0 and 8-6. The Mean Green jumped on the Miners early in the series finale to take the series. Courtney Clayton hit a home run in the game two, a two-run shot in the sixth that brought her squad within one run after falling behind 7-1.
In the first game, both sides receiving solid pitching performances. Erika Harrawood hurled 6.0 frames, recording three strikeouts.
ALL-TIME SERIES VS. MIDDLE TENNESSEE
UTEP is 8-1 all-time versus Middle Tennessee. The Miners have fashioned an undefeated record (6-0) against the Blue Raiders in the Sun City which included sweeps in 2014 and 2015. Last season in Murfreesboro, day one saw a split as the Miners defeated the Blue Raiders 7-2 in game one behind Linda Garcia’s 3-for-4 outing that included a two-run home run in the fifth, giving the Miners a 6-1 lead.
Kaitlin Fifield earned the win, throwing 7.0 frames and only walking one. In the game two, Middle Tennessee notched its first ever win against UTEP, 9-3. Cortney Smith, Kawehiokalani Netane and Garcia each homered in the loss. The Miners would rebound after the loss to rally for a series clinching 9-6 victory the next day.
The Blue Raiders took a 6-4 lead after scoring a pair of runs in the sixth. But the Miners exploded for five runs in the next frame on a Garcia RBI double, a Danielle Pearson two-run double and a Courtney Clayton two-run bomb over left. UTEP is hitting .399 (105-263) all-time against Middle Tennessee.
SCOUTING MIDDLE TENNEESSEE
The Blue Raiders are making their way to the Sun City this weekend with a current record of 9-11. Middle Tennessee fell short in all three games to WKU in its Conference USA opener this past weekend in Murfreesboro. The Blue Raiders have recorded a .261 average at the plate as junior Precious Birdsong is leading the squad with a .442 average and 23 hits.
Birdsong ranks fifth in C-USA in batting, while her .473 on-base percentage ranks seventh. Senior Austyn Whaley is also contributing to run production with 16 RBI, 11 runs and three home runs. The pitching staff currently has a 2.15 ERA to rank third in Conference USA. Junior Cori Jennings looks to be hard at work with ten starts and five wins under her belt for this season.
Jennings also has a 1.88 ERA, ranking sixth in C-USA, and has tallied 43 strike outs to rank no. 10 in conference. Middle Tennessee is ranked last in C-USA with its 79 runs scored.
C-USA HOME OPENERS
Under head coach Tobin Echo-Hawk’s direction, the Miners have gone 7-2 in the past three years during Conference USA home openers. The Miners lost two of three against Southern Miss March 8-9, 2014, but swept Middle Tennessee March 7-8, 2015 and LA Tech March 19-20, 2016.
Before the Echo-Hawk Era (2011-2013), the Miners tallied a record of 2-7 in conference openers at the Helen of Troy Softball Complex. During the 2015 sweep of Middle Tennessee, UTEP scored 26 runs and allowed only six during the three-game weekend.
TOUGHEST TO K
UTEP has struck out 91 times, ranking no. 9 (fourth least) in Conference USA. Lindsey Sokoloski ranks tied no. 17 nationally in toughest to strikeout (one strikeout in 72 at bats) and is tops in Conference USA in that statistical department. Courtney Clayton has kept her strikeouts to a minimum as she’s only left the batter’s box swinging or looking three times in 79 at bats.
Clayton ranks no. 77 nationally and tied second in C-USA. Taylor Sargent has only struck out four times in 64 at bats. The Miners struck out 40 times in 226 at bats (first nine games), but have kept those to a minimum the last 14 games, striking out 51 times in 388 at bats.
BATS HAVE PICKED UP
After hitting only .226 the first nine games of the season, UTEP is hitting .312 during its last 14 games. Those first nine contests only saw eight extra base hits (5 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR), while the Miners have registered 36 extra base hits (21 2B, 4 3B, 11 HR) their last 14 games. The last 10 games, UTEP is hitting .318 with seven home runs, two triples and 16 doubles.
UTEP has registered nine games of 10 or more hits, including six multi-hit games in the last eight contests. The season high came at New Mexico on a 13-hit outing during a game two victory. UTEP is currently hitting .280, ranking seventh in Conference USA.
DIGGING OUT TRIPLES
UTEP has tallied five triples in 2017, ranking fifth in Conference USA. LA Tech leads the way with nine, while UTSA and Marshall have recorded seven each and Charlotte has tallied six triples.
Lindsey Sokoloski leads UTEP with two, while ranking tied fifth in conference. Kiki Pepi, Kaitlin Ryder and Hope Moreno have each recorded a triple this season.
Cortney Smith got off to a smoking start with her bat this season. The sophomore leads the team and ranks 17th in Conference USA with a .345 batting average. Smith leads the Miners and is ranked tied fifth with six home runs. Smith hit four home runs her freshman season.
Smith ranks second on the squad in RBI (12) and leads the team in doubles (six). Smith ranks tied eighth in doubles in C-USA, while her .782 slugging percentage is ranked fourth. Smith also leads the team with four multiple-RBI games. Smith registered a seven-game hitting streak from Feb. 24-March 4, hitting .571 (12-21) in that span. Her numbers included five runs, eight RBI, five doubles and four home runs during the seven-game stretch.
Mallorie Cross has started the last 10 games behind the plate for the Miners. The freshman is hitting .300 with four RBI and a double during that span. She’s also tallied 32 putouts and four assists from behind the dish in the last 10 contests. For the season, Cross is hitting .304 to lead all UTEP freshman.
Cross has chipped in with five RBI and a pair of doubles, while defensively, she’s recorded 43 putouts and six assists.
BABER’S BAT BATTLING
Pamala Baber entered the March 8 doubleheader at New Mexico hitting under .200. But the freshman has been more patient and is hitting .417 (5-12) the last five games.
Baber blasted her first career home run at New Mexico a two-run shot over left on the first pitch. The dinger would actually start a string of at bats in which she reached base safely in six consecutive plate appearances. Baber followed with a double in the first game against the Lobos. In game two, she connected on a solo home run, walked her next two at bats and then followed with a single.
Baber is hitting .235 with four RBI and three doubles. Her patience is evident as Baber leads the team with 10 walks. Baber also leads the team with a trio of stolen bags. Baber is ranked tied second on the team with 12 runs scored. Baber has started 20 games this season, including the last seven in center field. Baber has registered 27 putouts and an assist.
Kiki Pepi started the season slow but has picked her play. Pepi leads the Miners with 17 RBI and is ranked tied 12th in Conference USA. Pepi ranked second on the team with a .338 batting average and has recorded four doubles, two home runs and a triple. Pepi is tied second on the team with 12 runs scored.
Pepi has produced some big numbers during UTEP victories this season. Pepi hit her first career grand slam during a 7-5 triumph against Utah State, while tying her career high with five RBI. Pepi racked up four RBI that also included a line drive two-run home run in 5-3 a victory at NM State. The senior infielder came up huge again by amassing five more RBI during the Miners’ 6-1 win against Wichita State.
Lindsey Sokoloski has started all 23 games this season, while making nine starts in the outfield. The sophomore is hitting .292 with three RBI, a double, eight runs and a team-leading two triples. Sokoloski has also tallied 16 putouts and one assist.
Sokoloski established her career high in hits with a 3-for-4 outing against Wichita State on March 5 and followed with another 3-for-4 performance at New Mexico on March 8. She’s a tough strikeout as Sokoloski ranks tied no. 17 nationally in toughest to strikeout (one strikeout in 72 at bats) and is tops in Conference USA.
Macey Brown recorded her first career hit at New Mexico during a game two victory. Her first hit was also her first career RBI in the sixth inning that put her squad up 4-1. After the Lobos tied the contest, Brown followed with her first career double that resulted in two more RBI that gave the Miners the go-ahead 7-4 lead.
Brown delivered again at North Texas as she connected on a pinch-hit, two-run single at North Texas. Brown has made five starts in the last six games, which also included a start at first base on March 4 against Wichita State.