H-P Sports In Depth: UTEP Softball to Play Five Games in Vegas

The UTEP softball team will travel to Las Vegas, Nevada, to compete in the Marucci Desert Classic hosted by UNLV February 16-18.

The Miners (1-4) will open with Nevada on Friday (12:15 p.m. MT/11:15 a.m. PT) followed by a contest against Boise State at 2:30 p.m. MT/1:30 PT. Saturday’s slate features games against New Mexico (10 a.m. MT/9 PT) and host UNLV (4:45 p.m. MT/3:45 PT), while the weekend will conclude against South Dakota on Sunday (10 a.m. MT).

UTEP is coming off a 1-4 weekend at the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe (Az), February 9-11. Despite falling in four contests, the Miners defeated Saint Mary’s College, 7-0, behind solid pitching, hitting and defense on February 10.

The victory was the first in Tempe since Feb. 6, 2009 when UTEP defeated Kansas 3-1.

A few UTEP newcomers made immediate impacts as junior transfer pitcher Kira McKechnie won her first collegiate game during her first college start in the circle. Freshman Ilena Santos, who started all five games in left field, came up with a trio of hits in her first 11 at bats (.273) as her first collegiate hit was a solo home run against Saint Mary’s College.

Freshman Ariana Valles also saw her first collegiate action, starting all five games at short stop. Valles registered a pair of hits and scored a run, while, defensively, Valles recorded 10 putouts and 10 assists. Transfer junior pitcher Julia Wright led the staff with 14.1 innings hurled in two starts (four appearances).

UTEP will be the designated ‘home’ team against Nevada and the ‘away’ team versus Boise State. Both contests will be played at Stephanie Lynn Craig Park (SLC 2) on Friday, Feb. 16. UTEP will be the designated ‘home’ squad against New Mexico on Saturday at SLC 3. The later game versus host program UNLV will be played at Eller Media Stadium. Sunday’s finale will be played at SLC 3 as the Miners will be the ‘home’ team against South Dakota.

UTEP is 2-11 all-time versus Nevada. The Miners and Wolf Pack last met in Las Vegas on Feb. 18, 2017. Nevada used a five-run sixth to down UTEP, 6-1. Taylor Sargent gave the Miners an early 1-0 advantage on an RBI single during the first inning. The Miners last defeated the Wolf Pack on March 27, 2008, an 8-1 triumph at the Helen of Troy Softball Complex.

The Wolf Pack is coming off a tight 7-6 loss to Long Beach State to close out the Puerto Vallarta College Challenge, and posted a 2-3 record on their opening weekend at the tournament with wins over LA Tech by a score of 9-3 and 5-1, respectively. Nevada will meet with Bradley prior to its meeting with UTEP at the Desert Classic in Las Vegas, Nev. In five games, Nevada is ranked second in the Mountain West in batting with a .352 avg. that includes four home runs and 30 RBIs. In the circle, Nevada has a 4.88 ERA as a team, allowing 35 runs. Pacing the Pack at the plate is rookie shortstop Lauren Gutierrez, who has posted a .471 batting average in 17 at-bats including two RBIs and currently leads the conference in hits with eight, as well as Jessica Sellers, who has a .467 batting average in 15 at bats with seven hits, a double, a home run and four RBIs. Julia Jensen, another Nevada freshman, has two starts for her team and has pitched 11.2 innings thus far, notching a 1.80 ERA and a 1-1 record in the circle with seven strikeouts. In the pre-season poll, Nevada was picked to finish fifth in the Mountain West.

UTEP is 0-2 all-time against Boise State. The Miners and Broncos met last season in Las Vegas, Nev., on Feb. 19. The Broncos took down the Miners, 16-7, in a high-scoring affair. BSU took a commanding 10-0 lead heading to the middle of the third frame, but the Miners scored a pair of runs during the bottom half off a two-run, booming home run by Cortney Smith. Then, with the score 11-2, the Miners made things interesting when five runs were scored in the bottom fourth to get within four runs. But the high-powered Broncos’ offense scored three in the top fifth and another two runs in the top seventh. The two programs met each other for the first time on Feb. 15, 2014, also in Las Vegas, as BSU came out on top, 16-9, after a seven-run top seventh.

The Broncos are returning to action after a 9-1 loss against Stanford to cap off the Kajikawa Classic. Boise State ended its opening weekend with an even 3-3 record, with wins over South Dakota, Indiana and St. Mary’s. As a unit, the Broncos are third in the Mountain West in batting with a .335 batting average that includes 13 doubles, six home runs, and 31 RBI. Boise State has a 7.40 ERA through six games and 35 innings, and has given up 42 runs, but has also notched 158 catches and only 10 errors. The Broncos are led at the plate by junior infielder Rebekah Cervantes, who boasts a .533 average in 15 appearances at the plate with four doubles, one home run and six RBI. Fellow infielder Jessica McKay has put up similar numbers in 17 at bats, with a .471 hitting average to include two doubles, a home run and six RBIs and rookie Halle Harger leads the team in RBI with seven. In the circle, sophomore pitcher Micaela Leal leads the team with a 0.95 ERA in 7.1 innings pitched, while senior infielder Makenzie Sullivan mans fielding duties with 25 chances and no errors for a flawless fielding percentage.

The Lobos hold a 15-9 advantage over the Miners. The two programs played a doubleheader on March 8, 2017 in Albuquerque. UNM edged UTEP 7-6 in game one after UTEP was up 4-0, but the Orange and Blue rebounded to win game two, 7-4, as Courtney Clayton went 3-for-5 with an RBI and Kaitlin Ryder produced a 3-for-4, two-runs scored performance. Pamala Baber finished 2-for-2 with an RBI and scored four runs (tied for second on the program’s all-time single-game list).

The Lobos competed at the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Ariz., going 1-4 during the weekend. UNM defeated Saint Mary’s College, 4-1, on Feb. 9, and had a tough challenge as it faced four top 25 programs in no. 15 Utah (17-0), no. 21 Oklahoma State (13-1), no. 3 Oregon (14-1) and no. 7 Arizona (8-0). New Mexico is hitting .186 in its first five games, with a pair of home runs. UNM also posted a 12.96 ERA during opening weekend. Sam Oliver got off to a good start in her career as the freshman hit .600 (3-for-5) with a run scored and drawing two walks.

The Miners are 1-4 all-time against the Rebels. UTEP and UNLV last met on Feb. 17, 2017 at Eller Media Stadium. The Rebels scored five runs in the bottom fourth after the Miners led 3-2 in which Kiki Pepi scored a run off an error. The Miners defeated the Rebels 6-0 on Feb. 19, 2016 in Vegas.

The Rebels got off to a fast start, winning four of their first five contests of 2018. UNLV opened with victories against North Dakota State (3-2 [9]) and Creighton (4-2) on Feb. 9 at the Sportco Kick Off Classic in Las Vegas, Nev. The Rebels came up short against Big Ten program Minnesota (3-0), but came back to shutout Utah Valley (8-0 [5]) on Feb. 10. UNLV concluded the weekend with another shutout victory, this time against Southern Utah (3-0). Myranda Bueno hit .538 that included a team-best seven hits (13 at bats) and four runs scored. Janine Petmecky registered three RBI during the weekend. The pitching staff posted a 1.54 ERA as Charlie Masterson (2-0) threw a team-high 14.0 innings. Petmecky (1-0) hurled 9.1 frames with a staff-best eight strikeouts.

The Miners are 1-3 all-time against the Coyotes. The two programs faced each other three times in 2013 as the Coyotes won 6-1 on Feb. 17 and 5-3 on Feb. 24. UTEP got by South Dakota 3-2 on Feb. 23. With the score 2-0 in favor of South Dakota, the Miners, behind a two-run home run from Kawehiokalani Netane during a pinch-hit situation, scored three runs in the bottom sixth.

The Coyotes went winless (0-6) during opening weekend at the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe. South Dakota fell to Boise State (11-3), San Jose State (16-12), UC Davis (3-1), Notre Dame (9-6), Purdue (11-5 [5]) and Northwestern (13-5 [5]). USD hit .274 as a team, led by Taylor Steinfeldt’s .500 average (10-for-20). Alyssa Fernandez (.375) led the team in home runs (four) and RBI (eight). The pitching staff posted an 8.83 ERA in 35.2 innings. The staff walked 28 and struck out 11 batters.

The UTEP defense turned five more double plays this past weekend in Tempe. The Miners have turned 65 in their last 108 contests (.60 per game). Last season, UTEP turned 30 double played and ranked tied third nationally with .63 double plays turned per game (48 games). The defense turned a pair against Mizzou, the first was a 4-6-3 (Courtney Clayton to Ariana Valles to Taylor Sargent) in the third inning, while the second came during the sixth on a L7-4 putout (Ileana Santos fielded lineout, throw to Clayton). The Miners then turned two more against Saint Mary’s College as the first one was turned during the first frame on a L5-3 (lineout to Cortney Smith, throw to Sargent) and the second was another 4-6-3 putout. The Miners turned their fifth of the weekend against no. 3 Oregon on a F7-5 putout (fly out to Santos, throw to Smith) during the fifth inning.

The Miners connected on four home runs in the first five games of 2018 after not hitting one during the first five games of 2017. Senior Taylor Sargent got a hold of the team’s first dinger during the first inning against Saint Mary’s College. Sargent hit a two-run shot over left, while freshman Ilena Santos hit a solo shot in the second and senior Kaitlin Ryder a three-run bomb in the fourth frame. The team’s fourth long ball came off junior Cortney Smith’s bat, a three-run blast against UC Davis.

Junior Cortney Smith, a 2018 preseason All-Conference USA team honoree, hit .333 (4-12) during opening weekend at the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Ariz. Smith recorded four hits, four RBI, a double, hit a home run and drew two walks. The Miners defeated Saint Mary’s on Feb. 10, 7-0, as Smith recorded an RBI double in the fourth inning. Smith also connected on her first dinger of 2018, slamming a three-run bomb over center on a 0-1 pitch during the fifth inning that gave the Miners a 4-3 lead against UC Davis. Smith also registered a single against no. 3 Oregon. Defensively, she recorded seven putouts and 10 assists at third base. Smith, early on in 2018, leads the Miners with four RBI is tied for the team lead with four hits. She led the Miners with eight home runs and a .364 batting average in 2017.

Freshman Ilena Santos made such a good impression during the fall season that UTEP head coach Tobin Echo-Hawk started her in left field the first five games of the 2018 season. Santos, after going 0-for-3 versus Missouri on opening day, settled down against Saint Mary’s College and finished 2-for-3, reaching base three times. She started with a solo home run over right center in the second inning, drew a walk in the fourth and scored a run, and then singled in the seventh. Santos is hitting .273 (3-for-11) thus far with two walks, two runs and an RBI. Santos was also part of two of UTEP’s double plays turned during the weekend. Defensively, she recorded six putouts and two assists.

Junior transfer pitcher Kira McKechnie, after only tossing a total of 1.2 innings at Fresno State in three appearances over two seasons, finally made her first collegiate start in the circle on Feb. 10. The Sacramento, Calif., native responded with a solid outing against Saint Mary’s College. McKechnie tossed 4.1 frames, allowed only three hits and struck out a batter during a shut victory. She made two starts and three appearances early in her UTEP career, throwing 7.0 innings and allowing six hits.

Transfer junior pitcher Julia Wright made two starts and four appearances during her first weekend as a Miner. Wright transferred from Ranger College, where she started 68 games (36 wins) in her two seasons there. Wright made her first Division I start against SEC power Missouri and held her own in a 5.0-inning effort. Wright’s two runs allowed were unearned, while she struck out a pair of Tigers. Wright made her second start against UC Davis on Feb. 11. Wright leads the staff in innings (14.1) and K’s (six) early on in the season.

Freshman Ariana Valles was the other freshman to start all five games during opening weekend. Valles made five starts at short stop and responded with 10 assists (tied for team lead) and 10 putouts. Valles, an El Paso native who attended Chapin High School, also recorded her first collegiate hit, a single against Saint Mary’s College during the fourth inning, while also scoring a run. Valles also singled in the third inning against San Jose State. She’s hitting .286 (seven at bats) early in the season.

Junior Mariah Ellis’s bat got off to a strong start as she connected on four hits during 13 at bats (.308) during the first five games of 2018. Ellis’s first knock of the season was a hard-double hit to right center in the first inning against Saint Mary’s College, while following with a single in the fifth, setting a career high with two hits in the contest. Ellis came up with another solid hit, a single, as she drove a hard liner off no. 3 Oregon’s third baseman in the second inning. Ellis then singled against San Jose State during the second frame. Ellis started at five games at the designated player position.

Sophomore Pamala Baber registered four hits during the first five games of 2018. Baber tied her career best with a pair of singles on two at bats (second and fourth innings) against no. 3 Oregon. Baber’s first knock of the season came against Saint Mary’s College in seventh frame, while she also singled against UC Davis during the fourth inning. Baber is hitting .364 (11 at bats) with a walk. She started all five games in right field, recording eight putouts.

Senior Courtney Clayton started 2018 with a trio of hits in 14 at bats, three runs scored and an RBI. She also recorded eight putouts with nine assists from second base in five starts. Clayton now has 104 runs (ranks sixth in program history), needing four to move to fifth. Clayton’s 183 hits rank fifth and needs five to move up to fourth on the program’s all-time list. Clayton recorded an RBI over the weekend and now has 87 in her career, ranking eighth. She’s looking to be the eighth Miner to reach 100-plus RBI during a career at UTEP. Clayton now had 530 career at bats, moving to eighth on the program’s all-time list. Clayton now has 322 assists, moving up to third on the all-time list, and needing 10 to move to second.

Redshirt junior Linda Garcia, after missing all of 2017 due to injury, made her way back to the softball diamond in Tempe, Ariz. Garcia recorded three at bats in pinch hit situations (vs. Mizzou, no. 3 Oregon & UC Davis), while she also made an appearance behind the plate against San Jose State. Garcia tallied a putout against SJSU. Garcia’s last full season in 2016, she hit seven home runs and registered 20 RBI.

Senior Kaitlin Ryder connected on her first long ball of 2018, a three-run bomb against Saint Mary’s College that gave UTEP a 6-0 lead. Ryder also opened the campaign with a single against Mizzou. Ryder made all five starts in center field and hit leadoff. She finished with a pair of runs scored and also drew a walk. Ryder recorded six putouts and an assist, while getting a few innings in at catcher.

Senior Taylor Sargent connected on a two-run home run against Saint Mary’s College in the first inning on Feb. 10. It was her first long ball since going yard against North Texas on May 1, 2016. Sargent tallied three hits on opening weekend, that included knocks against Mizzou and San Jose State. Sargent started all five games at first base and played right field for a few innings. She recorded a team-high 30 putouts during the weekend.