Photo: UTEP

UTEP Softball to Open 2016 Campaign in the Sun City

The UTEP softball team will begin the 2016 season at the Helen of Troy Softball Complex, as the Miners will host Incarnate Word on Feb. 11 in a doubleheader. First pitch is slated for 3 p.m., while both contests are free in conjunction National Girls and Women in Sport Day.

Opening day will commence at home for the first time since the 2012 season when the Miners defeated Santa Clara 11-3 (five innings) on Feb. 9, 2012.

UTEP will face Incarnate Word in its first three games of the new season. The Miners will see the Cardinals for the third time at the NM State Invitational on Feb. 13 (1 p.m.) in Las Cruces. UTEP will then face rival NM State (3 p.m.) following its contest against Incarnate Word, while taking on the Aggies again on Feb. 14 (10:30 a.m.).

All-time Series vs. Incarnate Word

UTEP leads the all-time series 3-0. The Miners and Cardinals played each other in a trio of games on Feb. 21-23 at the Helen of Troy Softball Complex. The Miners opened the weekend with a 12-4 (five innings) victory on Feb. 21, as Taylor Grohmann picked up her first career win. The Orange and Blue slipped by the Cardinals 6-5 in eight frames on Feb. 22, and 9-1 in five frames on Feb. 23 behind Grohmann’s six Ks.

Scouting Incarnate Word

The Cardinals went 12-39 in 2015, including a 2-20 road record. Junior pitcher/first baseman Kristin Hebert returns, as she led UIW with 20 RBI in 2015. Hebert led the pitching staff with 155.2 innings and 48 strikeouts. She finished the season with a 5-19 mark and a 4.72 ERA. Senior third baseman Shelbi Swenson hit .319 with four home runs and 16 RBI.

Kawehi’s Breakout Season

Senior Kawehiokalani Netane was named 2016 Preseason All-Conference USA after producing a breakout junior season in 2015. Netane earned a spot on the All-C-USA first team after establishing career highs down the stat line.

The native of Orlando, Fla., set career bests in home runs (eight), RBI (32), hits (56), doubles (10) and triples (four). She led the team with a .357 batting average – also a career high, while it ranked 16th-best in C-USA. Netane hit .388 in C-USA games only, ranking 11th in that category. She recorded a team and season-high of reaching base in 15 consecutive games from Feb. 22-March 14.

Netane hit .476 (20-for-42) with four jacks, 15 RBI and nine walks during that span. Netane also earned C-USA Player of the Week on April 13.

Phenomenal Freshman

Sophomore Courtney Clayton made an immediate impact during her first season with the Orange and Blue. Clayton started all 53 games in 2015, while being named to the Conference USA All-Freshman team. The native of Cornelius, Ore., hit .305, while ranking third on the team in home runs (seven) and RBI (30). Clayton chipped in with 27 runs scored and tied second on the squad with 10 doubles. She was a tough strikeout, whiffing only eight times in 167 at bats.

Clayton’s seven long balls were tied with Amber Bennett (2006) for third-most during a freshman campaign at UTEP, while her 30 RBI were fourth most for a freshman. Chelsea Troupe recorded 36 in 2009; Ashley Ellis produced 34 in 2007, while Camilla Carrera registered 32 in 2008. Defensively, Clayton led the Miners with 111 assists, tied with Miraya Montiel (2014) for second-most in program history.

More Freshmen Production

Besides Courtney Clayton making an impact, sophomores Linda Garcia, Hope Moreno, Kaitlin Ryder and Taylor Sargent made major contributions during their freshmen campaigns. The quartet combined for 10 home runs, 51 RBI and 42 runs scored. Ryder and Sargent each tallied 16 RBI, while Moreno hit .294 on the season.

Garcia’s production was apparent in Conference USA only games, hitting .275 with three home runs and nine RBI in 17 league games. Sargent also led the Miners with 292 putouts. Ryder only committed one error, while forging a .990 fielding percentage.

Road Woes

UTEP finished with a winless road record (0-19) in 2015, as it was the first time since the 2012 season (0-15) the squad went winless on the road. The Miners’ last road win came on May 4 – a 4-1 victory over East Carolina to end the 2014 season. UTEP’s record on the road during since 2013 is 10-50. In 2015, UTEP hit .251, while being outscored 132-45 on the road.

Home Sweet Helen of Troy

As the road has been unpleasant for UTEP, its home record the last two seasons is 22-14. During UTEP’s 18 home contests in 2015, the Miners hit .337 with 19 home runs and 116 runs scored (6.4 runs per game). UTEP also produced back-to-back winning home records for the first time since the 2009 (14-13) and 2010 (15-4) seasons. Prior the Tobin Echo-Hawk being named head coach, the Miners’ home record in 2013 was 3-15. UTEP combined for a 27-51 home record during the 2011, 2012 and 2013 seasons.

More Home Games in 2016

UTEP will play in 21 home contests in 2016 after playing 18 games in the Sun City each of the last three seasons. The Miners played in 30 home games during the 2012 season and 30 in 2011. UTEP’s overall record at the Helen of Troy Softball Complex is 129-121 since the field opened for the 2005 season. Overall, the Orange and Blue is 133-135 in El Paso, as the 2004 inaugural season saw the Miners play 18 games at the El Paso Community College softball field.

UTEP won 19 home games in 2008, the most in program history, while its .789 winning percentage (15-4) in 2010 ranks best in school annals.

Conference Groove

UTEP has not made the Conference USA tournament since the 2010 season. Though the Miners’ conference record in under .500, their combined 18-30 league record is the most wins since forging a 19-28-1 record during the 2009 and 2010 seasons. Prior to Tobin Echo-Hawktaking the helm of the program the Miners went 6-64-1 in conference contests. In its 12-year history, the UTEP softball program has never fashioned a winning conference record, as its 11-13 record in 2010 produced the most league wins and best winning percentage (.458) in program history.

Offensive Surge

Prior to Tobin Echo-Hawk arriving to UTEP, the Miners hit .264 with 18 home runs and 177 runs scored in 2013. Under Echo-Hawk, UTEP hit .292 during the 2014 and 2015 seasons combined. In 2015, the Miners’ .293 average was the second-best in program history, behind 2007’s .303 average. In 2014, the Miners hit .290 – the fourth-best average in program history. In the long ball department, UTEP has hit 69 home runs the last two campaigns. The Miners’ 39 jacks in 2015 were tied for sixth-most in school history (2010).

Defensive Notes

UTEP turned 21 doubles plays in 2015, matching the program’s single-season high (2007). FIU led Conference USA with 24 double plays turned last season. UTEP also set a program record with 489 assists in 2015 and ranking second in C-USA behind Florida Atlantic’s 500 assists.

Fifield in the Circle

Junior Kaitlin Fifield established herself as the team ace after leading the staff in wins (nine), innings pitched (149.2), strikeouts (90) and complete games (15). Fifield made a dramatic improvement from her freshman campaign in 2014, forging a 2-3 mark with an 11.12 ERA. Fifield posted a 7-9 record in Conference USA only games with a 2.98 ERA. The native of El Paso was even better at home, fashioning an 8-3 record with an ERA of 2.10 (60.0 innings pitched) and 43 Ks.

Sun City Sluggers

Six players from El Paso grace the 2016 roster. Freshman Ariel Blair (Hanks HS), junior Kaitlin Fifield (Chapin HS), junior Taylor Grohmann(Americas HS), junior Erika Harrawood (Franklin HS), junior Yvette Ortega (Franklin HS) and senior Jade Rodriguez (Americas HS) all played their high school softball in the Sun City. Junior transfer Miranda Gutierrez is no stranger to El Paso, as the Chino Hills, Calif., native played at El Paso Community College for two seasons (2014, 2015).

Roster Breakdown

The 2016 UTEP softball roster will consist of four seniors (Kawehiokalani Netane, Danielle Pearson, Morgan Rasmason and Jade Rodriguez), six juniors (Kaitlin Fifield, Taylor Grohmann, Miranda Gutierrez, Erika Harrawood, Yvette Ortega and Kiki Pepi), six sophomores (CourtneyClayton, Dani Fincham, Linda Garcia, Hope Moreno, Kaitlin Ryder and Taylor Sargent), and four freshman (Ariel Blair, Devyn Cretz, CortneySmith and Lindsey Sokoloski).

Garcia is listed as the line catcher, as Ryder is listed as a utility player, but will see much action behind home plate this season. The six infielders include, Smith, Ortega, Pepi, Clayton, Moreno and Sargent. The five outfielders include Blair, Sokoloski, Gutierrez, Rasmason and Rodriguez. The pitching staff will consist of Fifield, Grohmann, Harrawood, Fincham and Pearson (Cretz will redshirt in 2016). Netane is listed as a utility player, along with Ryder.

Conference USA Format

Conference USA softball will be spit into two divisions, same as last year. Charlotte, FIU, Florida Atlantic, Marshall, Middle Tennessee, and WKU make up the East Division, while LA Tech, North Texas, Southern Miss, UAB, UTEP and UTSA will play in the West. The C-USA Tournament will by played May 11-14 in Denton, Texas (North Texas).

The top eight teams in the regular season standings will qualify for the four-day championship. The first day will be single elimination, with seeds three and four receiving a bye. The top two seeds earn a double-bye to advance to the second day, when it becomes double-elimination until the final two teams are determined.

Those two will be in the single-elimination championship final with the winner earning the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.