HP Sports In-Depth: UTEP To Make First Ever Trip to Bowling Green to Face WKU

The UTEP softball team will make its first ever trip to Bowling Green, Ky., to take on WKU April 7-8. The Miners (13-24, 3-9 Conference USA West) and Hilltoppers (21-12, 5-4 C-USA East) will square off during a Saturday doubleheader starting at noon MT/1 CT, while Sunday’s series finale will be played at 11 a.m. MT/Noon CT.

The weekend weather, however, could present a problem as snow is in the April 7 forecast.

The two programs first met last season as WKU took the series 2-1 at the Helen of Troy Softball Complex. UTEP won game one, 10-2 [6], but were tripped up the next two contests.

WKU is coming off a 2-1 weekend at Charlotte, improving to 5-4 in league play. The Hilltoppers dropped their series finale against the 49ers 3-0 on March 31, falling to 21-12 overall. WKU is 10-5 at WKU Softball Complex and 1-2 at home in C-USA play (lost series to Middle Tennessee).

UTEP is coming off a 2-1 weekend against UTSA. The Miners got a walk-off, three-run home run form junior Kacey Duffield in the ninth inning to slow the Roadrunners, 5-4, in game one on March 30, while Courtney Clayton’s four RBI (tied career high) surged UTEP past UTSA, 8-5, to complete the Good Friday sweep. The Roadrunners rebounded to win game three, 7-2, on Saturday. Duffield’s walk-off home run was only the fifth ever at the Helen of Troy Softball Complex.

Clayton added more numbers during her impressive career, ranking no. 1 in career assists with 363 after recording six during the weekend. Clayton also hit her 24th career home run at NM State on March 27, while following with home run no. 25 in game two against UTSA, and now ranking tied fourth with Simone Holland. Clayton also registered seven RBI during the week, moving to sixth on the program’s all-time list.

A pair of pitchers won their first ever C-USA games as Julia Wright picked up a game-one victory against UTSA, as the junior threw 175 pitches during a career-high 9.0 innings tossed. Kira McKechnie followed with a game-two triumph versus the Roadrunners, as the junior tossed 5.0 frames. McKechnie also added a pair of doubles during the weekend, while going 2-for-4 with a RBI double in game three versus UTSA.

The road trip to Bowling Green, Ky., will be the second to last road of the season. The Miners will play at Middle Tennessee (April 28-29) to complete the road portion of the schedule. The Orange and Blue has nine home games remaining, including league games against North Texas (April 14-15) and LA Tech (May 5-6). The Miners will also host New Mexico on April 16 and Ole Miss April 20-21.

The two programs first met last season at the Helen of Troy Softball Complex April 8-9. The Miners won game one, 10-2 [6], as Taylor Sargent went 3-for-4 with three runs scored and two RBI, while Mallorie Cross finished 3-for-4 with a career-high three RBI. UTEP scored three runs in the bottom sixth to claim the 10-2 victory. The Miners dropped the next two games, 18-8 [5] and 7-2. Sargent hit .636 (7-11) with five runs, five RBI, two double and a pair of triples. Cross hit .556 (5-9) during the weekend. Pamala Baber hit .375 with a home run and five RBI. Baber went 2-for-3 with a two-run home run during the second inning in game two.

The Hilltoppers dropped to 21-13 after losing 10-6 at Murray State on April 4, but did improve to 5-4 in Conference USA play after winning the three-game series at Charlotte. WKU beat Charlotte 3-2 and 5-1 on March 30. The Hilltoppers are hitting .287, which ranks third in Conference USA. WKU’s 26 home runs rank second in C-USA. WKU leads the way in doubles (55) and triples (10). Paige Carter leads the team in hitting (.365) and RBI (28).

Carter’s RBI total ranks fourth in C-USA, while her average ranks 13th. Kelsey McGuffin (.326 avg.), Brittany Vaughn (.322) and Rebekah Engelhardt (.267) each pace the team with five home runs, while Vaughn ranks second on the team with 25 RBI. Vaughn leads the team with 13 stolen bases, while Jordan Thomas (.333) leads the team in doubles (12) and runs scored (26). WKU ranks sixth in C-USA with a 3.30 ERA. Kelsey Aikey (7-3) leads the team with a 2.74 ERA in 79.1 innings thrown. Aikey has added 67 K’s with two saves in 24 appearances (10 starts). Shelby Nunn (13-8) leads the staff in wins, innings pitched (106.0), starts (17), appearances (28) and K’s (78). Nunn has fashioned a 2.83 ERA while only walking 19. Nunn has also tallied two saves.

North Texas and Florida Atlantic are each 8-4 after UNT won its series at FAU. UAB posts the third best record at 5-3-1 after taking two of three against Middle Tennessee (6-6) in Birmingham. LA Tech (7-5) is coming off a series against Southern Miss (4-8) in Ruston. The Golden Eagles fell to stand in 11th place, one game up on UTEP (3-9), which won the weekend series against UTSA (4-4). FIU (4-5) won its series at Marshall (6-5-1). WKU (5-4) won its series at Charlotte (5-7).

Kacey Duffield blasted a three-run, walk-off home run in the ninth inning against UTSA in game one, as the Miners won 5-4. The walk-off home run was the first since Courtney Clayton walked off against Southern Miss during a 7-5 win in 2015. Clayton hit a two-run shot with the game tied at 5-5.

Kacey Duffield’s walk-off home run on March 30 was the sixth overall walk-off home run in the Sun City and fifth at the Helen of Troy Softball Complex. Jennifer Garcia belted a two-run home run that gave UTEP a 4-3 victory against Marist on March 16, 2004 at Tejanas Field on the campus at El Paso Community College (Helen of Troy Softball Complex opened prior to the 2005 season).

Stacie Townsend hit a pair of walk-off solo dingers in 2007 at Helen of Troy, the first beat no. 5 Arizona State 5-4 on March 20 and the second beat UAB 9-8 on April 24. Chelsea Troupe connected on a solo home run in the eighth during a 9-8 victory over UAB on April 24, 2010. Courtney Clayton won a contest off a two-run home run that defeated Southern Miss 7-5 on March 28, 2015.

Kacey Duffield, Alanna Leasau and Jennifer Garcia have something in common. Each are the only Miners hit a walk-off home run with their team down runs. Duffield hit a three-run shot with UTEP down 4-2 in the ninth against UTSA on March 30, Leasau blasted a grand slam with UTEP down 9-8 in the bottom seventh against Mississippi Valley State (in Jackson, Miss.) on March 15, 2013, and Garcia hit a two-run dinger with the Miners down 3-2 against Marist on March 16, 2004. Duffield, however, is the only Miner to do so in Helen of Troy Softball Complex.

Kacey Duffield has shown her ability with the bat, but her ability to field is apparent. Duffield led the Miners with 29 putouts during the last five games in five starts at first base, including a career-high 10 putouts against UTSA in game one. Duffield registered seven putouts and an assist in game three versus the Roadrunners. Duffield recorded four unassisted putouts against UTSA – two in game two (first and third innings) and two in game three (second and fourth innings).

Courtney Clayton recorded six assists against UTSA, including five in game one. With those six assists, Clayton moved to no. 1 on the program’s all-time assists’ list with 363, passing Amber Bennett (360 assists). Clayton has been rock solid at second base, playing the majority of her games at that position. Clayton posted 119 assists in 2016, the second most during a single season, while she dished out 111 during her freshman season (2015), ranking tied for fifth most during a single season.

Courtney Clayton ranks no. 1 in Conference USA and 19th nationally with 85 total bases. Clayton ranks tied for fourth in doubles (10) and home runs (seven), while ranking second with three triples. Clayton’s 48 hits rank fourth in C-USA.

Courtney Clayton hit two more home runs last week, the first at NM State, a three-run dinger in game one, while she connected on a two-run shot in game two against UTSA. Clayton now has 25 home runs in her career, moving past Kawehiokalani Netane (24 HR) and is now tied with Amber Bennett for fourth on the all-time list. Stacie Townsend’s 33 long ball rank third.

Clayton’s seven home runs in 2018 has tied her career high as she hit seven in 2015 and seven in 2016.

Courtney Clayton registered seven RBI during the last five games, moving to sixth on the program’s all-time list with 108 RBI in her career. Clayton now ranks sixth, moving past Kiki Pepi (103 RBI) and Ashley Ellis (105). Amber Bennett (109) ranks fifth, while Simone Holland (113 RBI) ranks fourth. Clayton became the eighth Miner in UTEP history to hit the 100-RBI club after posting RBI no. 100 against UAB on March 18.

Courtney Clayton has started in 193 consecutive games. Clayton started in all 53 games in 2015, all 55 contests in 2016, all 48 in 2017 and currently has started all 37 games this season. Clayton’s streak ranks second behind Stacie Townsend’s 217 consecutive starts.

Courtney Clayton’s 193 starts ranks seventh, behind Kayla Oranger’s 196 starts. Simone Holland (201), Amber Bennett (205), Ashley Ellis (211), Stacie Townsend (2017) and Camilla Carrera (2019) round out the most starts’ list.

Courtney Clayton recorded third triple of the season in game three against UTSA. She now ranks second in Conference USA behind UAB’s Natalie Erwin (four triples). Clayton now has five career triples, moving to tied third with Kawehiokalani Netane and Ashley Perez on the program’s all-time list. Sarah Ramirez has six in her career, while Tahla Wade holds the career record with nine three-baggers.

Courtney Clayton registered two more multi-hit games last week, the first was a 3-for-4 effort in game two versus UTSA, while going 2-for-4 in game three. Clayton has now recorded 68 multi-hit games, ranking second behind Camilla Carrera’s 74 multi-hit games.

Courtney Clayton, after posting big numbers last week, is ranked second in Conference USA with a .417 batting average – one point behind leader FAU’s Madisyn Palmer. Nationally, Clayton is ranked no. 67 in hitting. Clayton’s 48 hits are ranked fourth in C-USA and 31st nationally, while Clayton ranks tied for fourth in C-USA with two other players with 10 doubles. Clayton ranks eighth in C-USA with 25 runs scored, second in triples with a trio, tied with two other players for fourth with seven home runs. Clayton’s 22 RBI lead the Miners and rank tied for 12th in C-USA. Clayton’s slugging (.739) ranks third and on-base (.460) ranks seventh.

Courtney Clayton has only struck out four times in 115 at bats. She ranks no. 1 in Conference USA and 29th nationally in toughest to strike out (28.8). Clayton, during her career, has only struck out 26 times in 631 at bats (24.3).

Courtney Clayton holds the UTEP softball program record for most times reaching base on error with 28. Kayla Oranger ranks second with 26. Clayton reached on an error at Hawai’i on March 3 and reached on an error against South Dakota State on Feb. 18.

Kira McKechnie made five starts the last five games. The junior started at the designated player position at NM State in game two, while getting the nod at DP against UTSA in games one and three. McKechnie started in a pair of contests in the circle, while also being penciled in the batting order. McKechnie defeated UTSA in game two, hurling 5.0 strong innings, while going 1-for-2 with a double.

McKechnie followed with a career-high two hits, including a RBI ground-rule double. McKechnie leads the staff with seven wins, while compiling 57 K’s in 77.0 innings. In the batter’s box, McKechnie is hitting .300 (6-20) with three RBI and two doubles. McKechnie has also drawn a pair of walks, while also being hit by a pitch twice. Defensively, McKechnie has recorded 22 assists with three putouts.

Julia Wright has a workhorse against UTSA during a game-one, 5-4 [9] extra inning victory. Wright tossed a career-high 9.0 innings, while hurling 175 pitches. Wright matched her career high with seven strikeouts, while tallying two earned runs. Wright has chalked up a trio of victories, while also saving three games, which ranks no. 1 in Conference USA and tied for 18th nationally. Wright’s team-leading 65 K’s also rank 11th in C-USA.

Taylor Sargent’s bat got off to a slow start. But since March 17, the senior is hitting .375 (9-24) the last nine games she’s played in (March 17-31). Sargent has added 10 runs, a double and three walks, while only striking out in 24 at bats during that span. Sargent’s bat has also picked up during Conference USA only games, as she is hitting .348 (8-23) with eight runs scored in 11 league contests.

During the March 17-31 span, Sargent scored three runs during UTEP’s 16-13 win against UAB, while scoring a pair of runs during UTEP’s comeback bid against NM State. Against UTSA, Sargent went 4-for-7 (.574) while going 2-for-3 in game two and scoring runs during the Miners’ victories over the Roadrunners. Sargent added another 2-for-3 performance in game three. After hitting .224 prior to March 17, Sargent is now hitting .268 and has scored 16 runs with eight RBI and a home run in 2018.

Taylor Sargent is hitting .348 (8-23) in 11 Conference USA only games. Sargent seems to hit well in league only games as she hit .313 (26-83) in 24 games in 2016 and .369 (24-65) in 23 league games last year. Overall during her career in C-USA games only, Sargent is hitting .308 (70-227) during her career.

Ariana Valles has produced solid numbers during her first season with the UTEP softball program. Valles is an El Paso native who played her high school at Chapin High School where she was an all-city performer. The freshman has started all 37 games at the shortstop position, while leading the team and ranking seventh in Conference USA with 71 assists. Valles’s bat has also been sturdy, as she ranks second on the team in hitting (.293), RBI (16), doubles (seven) and triples (two).

Valles recently hit .333 the last five games. Valles came up with a huge triple that scored a run during the 5-4 [9] game-one victory against UTSA during the fifth inning. Valles scored a run during the 8-5 game two win. Valles’s week started with a 2-for-4, two-RBI outing at NM State in game one. The two RBI tied her career high.

UTEP has now turned 17 double plays after turning three more last week. The first came at NM State in game one, while two were turned against UTSA, one during the sixth inning in game one, and another in game three during the fifth frame. The Miners’ 17 double plays turned leads Conference USA, while their .46 DP’s turned per game rank 25th nationally.

Over the last three seasons, the Miners have turned 77 double plays in 140 games (.55 per game). UTEP turned 30 in 2017, ranking tied for third nationally at .63 double plays turned per game, while in 2016 UTEP’s .55 per game (30 DP’s) ranked tied for seventh nationally.

UTEP ranks fifth in Conference USA with a .276 batting average, and is one of five programs hitting .275 or better. Middle Tennessee leads the way at .302, while Marshall (.289), WKU (.287) and North Texas (.279) round out the list. UTEP’s 263 hits rank fourth behind UAB (270), FIU (275) and Middle Tennessee (297).

UTEP ranks tied for fourth with MT and Marshall in doubles (43) and tied for third with Southern Miss in triples (eight). WKU leads the league in doubles (55) and triples (10). UTEP ranks third with 24 home runs behind WKU (26) and North Texas (41). UTEP ranks fourth in total bases (394).