The UTEP softball team, winners of its last three Conference USA games, will play an important three-game series at Middle Tennessee April 28-29.
The Miners (18-28, 7-11 C-USA West) and Blue Raiders (31-18, 8-9 C-USA East) will open the weekend series on Saturday in a doubleheader starting 2 p.m. CT/1 MT. Sunday’s series finale is set for a noon CT/11 a.m. MT start.
UTEP and Middle Tennessee boast the league’s top offenses as are both vying for a spot in the C-USA Softball Championship May 9-12. The top three teams from each division will advance to the postseason tournament in Charlotte, N.C., while the next two teams with the best record/winning percentage will round out the tournament.
The Miners, after a series sweep against North Texas April 14-15 and winning six of their last nine league games, are sitting in ninth place with Southern Miss (7-11). WKU (9-9) and Middle Tennessee (8-9) are currently placed in the seven and eight spots, respectively.
MT ranks no. 1 in hitting (.301), while UTEP ranks no. 2 with a .286 batting average. The Miners and Blue Raiders’ offenses, overall in C-USA, each rank in the top five in 11 of 21 total offensive categories. UTEP and MT are two of four league schools hitting over .280 on the season.
UTEP, during a bye weekend in league play, is coming off a pair of non-conference losses to SEC school Ole Miss April 20-21, but had won its last four contests, including a 7-0 win against New Mexico April 16.
The Miners are led by All-C-USA hopeful Courtney Clayton, who ranks second in C-USA behind LA Tech’s Morgan Turkoly with a .410 batting average. Clayton’s 59 hits rank fourth in C-USA, while it surpassed her 50 hits from last season. Clayton ranks second in total bases (101), ranks third in doubles (13) and ranks second in triples (four).
UTEP is making its second ever trip to Murfreesboro, Tenn., while it marks the final regular-season road trip of 2018. The Orange and Blue will close the regular season with five home consecutive home games, as a doubleheader against Texas Tech was recently added to the schedule on May 3. The Miners will host LA Tech during Senior Weekend May 5-6.
C-USA SOFTBALL QUICK RUNDOWN
LA Tech (15-6 Conference USA West) and FIU (10-7 C-USA East) lead its respective divisions. UAB (11-6-1) sits in third overall and second in the West, while Florida Atlantic (10-7) is fourth overall and Marshall (11-9-1) is fifth overall. North Texas (8-9) is in sixth. The next two teams are WKU (9-9) and Middle Tennessee (8-9), which sits at seven and eight, respectively.
UTEP (7-11), Southern Miss (7-11), UTSA (6-12) and Charlotte (6-12) are on the outside looking in. FAU, FIU, UNT and MT have each played one less league game to this point of the season after cancellations during the weekend of April 21-22.
ALL-TIME SERIES VS. MIDDLE TENNESSEE
UTEP owns a 10-2 mark against MT, while winning two of three last season in El Paso and two of three in Murfreesboro, Tenn., in 2016. Last season, UTEP hit .376 in the three games, while scoring 19 runs. Kaitlin Ryder hit .444 (4-9) with a home run and six RBI. Pamala Baber hit .500 (5-10) with a double, triple and two runs scored.
The Miners held off the Blue Raiders in game one, 7-6. MT scored four runs in the top seventh. UTEP scored three runs in the second behind Ryder’s three-run home run and another three runs in the fourth frame.
Taylor Sargent went 2-for-3 with two runs. UTEP, after registering 13 hits, overcame a MT five-run first inning and won game three to clinch the series victory. The Miners would eventually take a 10-5 lead after scoring a trio of runs in the fourth inning. MT put up another two runs in the fifth. Baber went 2-for-4 with two RBI and a run.
SCOUTING MIDDLE TENNESSEE
The Blue Raiders improved to 31-18 overall after a 3-1 victory at Tennessee State on April 25. Middle Tennessee, after splitting a two-game series against Florida Atlantic April 21, is 8-9 in Conference USA action and sits in eighth place in the overall league standings. The Owls and Blue Raiders didn’t play the third game of the series due to rain.
The Blue Raiders lead C-USA in batting average (.301) and hits (383), while ranking in the top five in multiple offensive categories. MT also ranks 33rd nationally with its .301 average. Summer Burgess leads MT with a .368 average (60-163), while ranking 13th in C-USA, and ranks second on the team with 18 stolen bases.
MT has stolen 78 bases – ranked fourth in C-USA – as Precious Birdsong (.348 avg.) leads the team and ranks tied for fourth in C-USA with 24 stolen bags (27 att.), while also leading MT with 39 runs scored. Lexi Cushing ranks second in C-USA with her school record 12 home runs. Cushing broke the program’s single-season mark with her 11th dinger hit against FAU. Cushing also leads the team with 40 RBI, which is also tied for the league lead.
Morgan Harris (.359 avg.) has hit a pair of home runs and ranks second on the team with 29 RBI. The Blue Raiders’ 2.68 ERA ranks third in C-USA as the staff ace is Cori Jennings (15-8). She leads the team in wins, ERA (2.23), innings pitched (138.0), K’s (83), saves (two) and starts (21). Amber Baldwin (9-7), after Wednesday night’s complete-game victory, is posting a 2.91 ERA in 103.1 innings with 45 K’s. The MT pitchers have combined for 105 walks.
MINERS POTENT OFFENSE
UTEP ranks in the top five in 10 of 21 offensive categories in Conference USA. The Miners rank second in hitting (.286), third in slugging (.426), fifth in runs scored (199), fifth in hits (345), fourth in RBI (178), fifth in doubles (57), second in triples (11), fourth in home runs (30), fourth in total bases (514) and tied for second in hit by pitch (24). Miners rank sixth in on-base percentage (.350).
MINERS’ SOLID DEFENSE
UTEP is tied for first with Marshall with 19 double plays turned, while the Miners’ fielding percentage (.962) ranks fourth in Conference USA. UTEP’s 49 errors are also tied for fourth least in C-USA. UTEP leads the league with 23 runners caught stealing. UTEP’s 383 assists ranks seventh.