The UTEP softball team will begin its 2019 campaign at the NM State Invitational (Feb. 8-9) in Las Cruces, N.M., playing four games versus Creighton, New Mexico and I-10 rival NM State.
The first pitch of the season will take place versus Creighton Friday Feb. 8 (11 a.m. MT). Directly after the conclusion of that matchup the Miners will battle New Mexico to finish up the first day of action. On Feb. 9 (12:30 p.m. MT) the Bluejays and UTEP will square off for a rematch of opening day. Later that night (5:30 p.m. MT), in the final game of the NM State Invitational, UTEP and NM State will battle for the 45th time in the two programs heated rivalry.
CREIGHTON SCOUTING REPORT
The Bluejays sit atop the Big East preseason poll, coming off of a 28-15 record during the 2018 campaign. The preseason recognition is due in large part to Creighton returning five position players and two pitchers who started a combined 32 games last season. Sophomore Kiele Miller posted an impressive freshman year that earned her a spot on the All-Big East second team. During league play the pitcher paced the conference in ERA (1.42) and opposing batting average (.172). Junior Ashley Cantu was the only Bluejay to start all 43 games and became only the eighth player in program history to notch a .400 batting average or better (.401).
NEW MEXICO SCOUTING REPORT
The Lobos are picked to finish last in the Mountain West conference after losing the entirety of their pitching staff from the 2018 season. New Mexico will be relying on the bat of sophomore Andrea Howard who started 50 games with a .313 batting average, 41 hits, seven homeruns and 18 RBI during her freshman season. The Utility player earned All-Mountain West second team honors due to her efforts at the plate. Also returning is shortstop Cameryn O’Grady who led the team in starts (52), runs scored (31), doubles (12) and triples (4).
NM STATE SCOUTING REPORT
The Aggies are coming off of a 29-24 record, winning the WAC and making an appearance at the NCAA Regionals. NM State is projected to finish first in the WAC and has four selections on the Preseason All-WAC Team (Nikki Butler, Victoria Castro, Kayla Green and Kelsey Horton). Senior Kayla Green was selected as the preseason pitcher of the year in the conference, after being selected to the All-WAC first team and leading the team in ERA (3.72), wins (14) and innings pitched (135.1). Kelsey Horton is entering her senior season as the WAC Preseason Player of The Year. Horton led her team in starts (53), batting average (.402), runs scored (52), hits (68), home runs (25), RBI (64) and Slugging percentage (.911).
On the road again
The Miners will log 6,120 miles of travel before Conference USA play begins. The Orange and Blue will begin the journey by traveling up the road to compete in I-10 rival NM State’s invitational. The team will then head to Las Vegas, Nev., for the Boyd Gaming Classic (Feb. 15-17) hosted by UNLV for a five-game slate. A five-game trip to Davis, Calif., (Feb. 21-23) will be next on the agenda for the traveling Miners as a part of UC Davis’s tournament. Next on the docket, UTEP will stay out west for the UCR Classic (Mar. 1-3), and then will travel to Lubbock, Texas, where they will play a doubleheader with the Big 12’s Texas Tech Red Raiders (March 5).
Catch me if you can
Senior Ariel Blair is the second player in program history to lead the team in stolen bases for three consecutive seasons (2016-2018). If she were to lead the squad for a fourth straight year Blair would be the first Miner to ever accomplish the feat. Last season, she went a perfect 10-10 in stolen base attempts, which tied for the highest success rate in a season (Chelsea Troupe 2011 11-11). The outfielder currently has 17 base swipes in her career and only needs six to become fifth all-time in the Miner record books.
Big Shoes To Fill
The Miners will be reliant on their 2019 roster to replace some heavy hitters from last year’s squad.Courtney Clayton was one of the most reliable Miners at the plate in program history holding numerous places in the Miner record books. Last season Clayton,Kaitlin Ryder and Taylor Sargent combined for 162 hits, 29 doubles, eight triples, 14 home runs, and 76 RBI.
Coach Tobin Echo-Hawk and her staff will be looking to SeniorsCortney Smith, Kacey Duffield and Ariel Blair to step up in a big way. Smith and Duffield were third and fourth in batting average and hits last season. They also combined for 10 home runs and 40 RBI. Blair will be relied upon to turn singles into doubles, and put pressure on opponent’s defenses with her speed on the base paths.Junior Pamala Baber batted .326 with 16 RBI and an impressive .443 OBP during the 2018 campaign, and will be seeking to improve on that production. El Paso, Texas, native Ariana Valles rated third on the team in RBI (24) in just her freshman season, garnering her a selection on the C-USA All-Freshman Team.
The Rebstock Effect
Assistant coachAlex Rebstock is sure to have a positive effect on this year’s pitching staff comprised of two seniors (Kira McKechnie &Julia Wright), one junior (Allie Johnson) and two freshmen (Nadya Orozco &Bryana Munoz). The bulk of the pitching fell on McKechnie and Wright in 2018 with both hurlers throwing 134.1 innings each. They combined for 223 walks and 189 strikeouts, and are aiming to improve that ratio in their final collegiate seasons.
Offense Is the best Offense
The Miners were amongst the league leaders at the plate in Conference USA, ranking in the top five in batting average (.286), hits (406), doubles (70), triples (12), home runs (34), RBI (206) and total bases (602). Under head coach Tobin Echo-Hawk, UTEP has posted some of the best seasons any Miner team has enjoyed in the batter’s box. SeniorCortney Smith boasts a career batting average of .315, 17 home runs and a .388 OBP. JuniorPamala Baber batted .326 with 16 RBI and an impressive .443 OBP during her sophomore season. Their production will be paramount for UTEP this season as it hopes to continue to put runs on the board and put players on base.
Coach Tobin Echo-Hawk has coached two freshmenCourtney Clayton (2015) & Ariana Valles (2018) to the Conference USAAll-Freshman Team during her time at UTEP. Valles started all 54 games for the Miners as the premier shortstop. She ranked fourth on the team in hits (38) and had the most assists on the team (104) with a .936 fielding percentage. Echo-Hawk will be looking to the six fresh faces in the Miner dugout to help continue that legacy. The freshman class consists of infieldersKasey Flores and Pate Cathey, outfielder Idalis Mendez, pitchersBryana Munoz & Nadya Orozco and utility player Sky Estrada.
In The Field
The Miners set a program record with only 58 errors and a .962 fielding percentage during the 2018 campaign. Since head coachTobin Echo-Hawk took over the program in 2013, the fielding percentage has been on a steady incline. This improvement has been in large part due to the coaching of Echo-Hawk and assistant coachCristina Cobb-Adams who were both standout infielders in college at their respective schools (Nebraska and Princeton). With five starters returning to the field, UTEP hopes to continue that trend.