El Paso, TX - The UTEP softball team will travel to Ruston to take on Conference USA West Division foe LA Tech April 14-15. Friday’s doubleheader will start at 2 p.m. CT/ 1 MT, while Saturday’s series finale will start at noon CT/ 11 a.m. MT.
The Miners (11-28, 5-10 C-USA) are currently tied with Southern Miss (5-10), while standing one game behind UTSA (6-9) in the West Division. The Lady Techsters (26-14, 9-3 C-USA West) are in first place and currently the no. 2 seed behind Marshall (14-1 East). FIU (8-4 East), Florida Atlantic (7-5 East), North Texas (8-7 West), Charlotte (5-7 East), WKU (6-9 East) and UTSA round out the standings. Middle Tennessee sits in last place (3-9 East).
The top eight schools, out of 12, will advance to the C-USA Tournament in Hattiesburg, Miss, May 10-13. The top three teams from each division, while the next two schools with the best records will advance to the four-day championship. Seeds three and four will receive a bye, while the top two seeds earn a double-bye to advance to the second day.
UTEP won game one against WKU, 10-2 (6), while recording 30 hits during the weekend series. The Miners and Hilltoppers game two scoring fest ranks most runs (26) between both teams in C-USA. The Miners are ranked second in C-USA in team batting average (.307), while their 329 hits rank second. Lindsey Sokoloski is ranked no. 1 in the nation in toughest to strikeout after a K-less weekend and Taylor Sargent is ranked 17th in the C-USA with a .349 batting average. Sargent was hitting .250 after March 26.
In the 2015, LA Tech took care of UTEP in three games, while the Miners returned the favor by sweeping the Lady Techsters in El Paso last season. In 2014, during Tobin Echo-Hawk’s first season, her squad swept LA Tech in Ruston as it was the first ever sweep of a conference opponent in program history.
The Miners will have their bye week following the LA Tech series and will continue play at UAB April 29-30, while the regular season will conclude in El Paso against Florida Atlantic May 6-7 (Senior Weekend).
WKU took two of the three games April 8-9 at the Helen of Troy Softball Complex. The Miners won game one, 10-2 (6), behind a strong pitching effort from Kaitlin Fifield and a career-high three RBI off Mallorie Cross’s bat. Cross also tied her career best with a 3-for-4 outing. Taylor Sargent continued her hot streak by scoring a career-high three runs on a 3-for-4 performance and a pair of RBI. Sargent hit .636 (7-11) during the weekend and tallied five runs, two doubles, two triples and five RBI. Cross hit .556 (5-9) with three RBI and a double. The Hilltoppers jumped on the Miners early in game two, registering an 18-8 (5) victory. During the rubber match, UTEP and WKU played seven scoreless innings, but the Hilltoppers came out on top, 7-2 (8), after scoring all their runs in the extra frame. Pamala Baber’s bat picked up after hitting .375 (3-8) with a home run and five RBI. Fifield had a stretch where she allowed only two earned runs in 13.0 innings.
ALL-TIME SERIES VS. LA TECH
LA Tech holds a slim 9-7 overall record against UTEP dating back to April 10, 2004 when both programs were part of the Western Athletic Conference. UTEP joined Conference USA prior to the 2006 season, while LA Tech became a member prior to the 2014 campaign. The Miners are 5-4 in Ruston, which includes a 2014 sweep – the program’s first ever three-game cleanup of a league opponent. LA Tech, however, got UTEP back with a sweep of its own the following season. Last season in the Sun City, UTEP won all three contest, outing scoring LA Tech 28-13. The Miners won game one, 13-7, game two, 7-6 (8), and game three, 8-0. Courtney Clayton hit .500 (6-12) and tallied five RBI. Kiki Pepi hit .400 (4-10) with a team-high six RBI. Danielle Pearson (2-0) threw 13.0 frames with three earned runs (1.62 ERA) in games two and three, while Kaitlin Fifield won game one in a complete-game effort.
SCOUTING LA TECH
The Lady Techsters got off to a fast start and have maintained a first-place lead since Conference USA action commenced. LA Tech has an overall record of 26-14 and 9-3 in conference play, which has them leading the Western Division. As a team, La Tech is hitting .293, with Morgan Turkoly (.385) and Taria Page (.375) leading the pack. The two sophomores have tallied a total of 61 RBI between them. The Lady Techster pitching staff has been competing with a 2.35 ERA. Sophomore Preslee Gallaway (2.64) has seen the most time on the mound, recording 11 wins and 95 strikeouts. Junior Bailey Allen (2.33) has recorded six wins, while sophomore Krystal De La Cruz (1.70) has fashioned an undefeated record of 7-0 and has had 40 strikeouts in 70.0 innings. In conference play, this pitching staff is ranked number one in Conference USA with a 1.45 era. LA Tech’s defense has also been on point, leading the conference with a fielding percentage of 0.972.
UTEP turned two more double plays against WKU. The Miners have turned 24 double plays to lead Conference USA and rank no. 4 nationally. UTEP also ranks no. 7 nationally in double plays turned per game (.62). Auburn leads the nation with 29 double plays turned and turned per game (.74). Courtney Clayton ranks second in C-USA in fielding double plays with 12, while Cortney Smith (10) ranks tied fourth and Taylor Sargent (nine) ranks tied seventh.
SECOND MOST DOULBE PLAYS
UTEP’s 24 double plays turned in 2017 is already the second most turned in program history. Last season’s squad turned a program-best 30 double plays. In fact, since Tobin Echo-Hawk arrived to UTEP, the Miners have turned 93 doubles plays in 198 games (.47 per game). The 2007 squad turned 21, while 19 double plays were turned during the 2005 season. The previous four seasons (2010-13), 46 double plays were turned.
UTEP ranks second in Conference USA with its .307 batting average is one of four league programs hitting .300 or better. Marshall (.325), UTSA (.305) and Charlotte (.300) are the other three teams. Nationally, UTEP ranks no. 42 as no. 1 Florida State leads the nation in hitting (.367). The Miners hit .307 in 2016, the program’s best single-season average and only the second time to hit over .300 in a single season. UTEP hit .303 in 2007.
UTEP RANKINGS IN C-USA ONLY GAMES
The Miners lead in batting average (.327) and hits (139) in Conference USA games only. UTEP ranks second in runs scored (74), on-base percentage (.383), RBI (71) and total bases (184). UTEP ranks third in slugging (.433). Marshall leads the way in runs scored (84) and RBI (76).
5 IN THE TOP 25
UTEP has five players ranked in the top 25 in Conference USA in batting. Kiki Pepi (.356) ranks 14th, Kaitlin Ryder (.351) ranks 16th, Taylor Sargent (.349) ranks 17th, Cortney Smith (.343) ranks 19th, and Courtney Clayton (.333) ranks no. 21. UTEP has the most players in the top 25, while UTSA, Marshall, Charlotte, North Texas and FIU each have three. Florida Atlantic and LA Tech each have two, and Middle Tennessee features one.
RACKING UP HITS
The Miners have connected on 329 hits, ranking second in Conference USA and 25th nationally. UTEP recorded 30 hits during the WKU series. UTEP’s 17 hits at UTSA (April 1) are tied for the most during the Tobin Echo-Hawk era, as 17 hits were recorded against Incarnate Word on Feb. 11, 2016. The 17 knocks are tied for eighth on the all-time list. Last season, the Miners set a single-season record with 451 knocks.
MORE ON THE HIT PARADE
UTEP has recorded 10-plus hit games 79 times during the Tobin Echo-Hawk era. The previous four seasons, the Miners tallied 10-plus hits in 50 contests. Since Echo-Hawk took the helm at UTEP, the Miners are hitting .299 (1,598-5,346), while the previous four years saw a .268 average (1,462-5,462). The Miners have connected on 15-plus hits in 14 different contests from 2014-17 and eight different times from 2010-13. The most hits recorded the last eight seasons were 24 at Brown on March 3, 2012 – tied most in program history.
EXTRA BASE HITS
UTEP has connected on 48 doubles, ranking fourth in Conference USA. LA Tech leads the way with 58 doubles. The Miners have also recorded nine triples to rank third; LA Tech leads with 11. UTEP has hit 21 home runs during the season. The Miners, who didn’t hit a home run the first seven games of the season, ranks tied ninth with Southern Miss and Florida Atlantic in C-USA; WKU leads the league with 37 home runs.
GETTING HIT ON
UTEP has been hit 23 times to rank fourth in Conference USA. WKU leads the way with 61, while North Texas has been hit 30 times and FIU 26 times.
UTEP has tallied 332 assists in 39 games to rank fifth in Conference USA behind UTSA (343), WKU (361), UAB (381) and Southern Miss (418). The Miners’ 143 assists in C-USA only games rank second behind Southern Miss (182).
NO. 1 IN THE NATION
Lindsey Sokoloski sees the ball well as she’s only struck out once in 110 at bats to lead the nation in toughest to strikeout. The sophomore is one of six national players to only leave the plate looking or swinging once with 74-plus at bats. Sokoloski has the most at bats of the six national players who have fanned once. Sokoloski is hitting .300 (33 hits) with five RBI and is tied for the team lead with two triples. She’s also tallied 14 runs and a double, along with 22 putouts and an assist from right field.
UTEP has struck out 145 times, which is fourth least in Conference USA. Lindsey Sokoloski leads the nation in toughest to strikeout, while Courtney Clayton ranks second in C-USA and no. 24 nationally, only striking out four times in 135 at bats. Taylor Sargent ranks third in C-USA and tied no. 44 nationally, striking out four times in 106 at bats.
After hitting .250 after a March 26 contest against Southern Miss, Taylor Sargent has reached base in the last eight games (April 1-9), while she’s drilled eight extra base hits the last eight games. The junior’s bat has lit up the stat sheet as Sargent is hitting .600 (18-30) with six doubles, two triples, seven runs and 10 RBI. It’s the best average, and most RBI and doubles during that stretch (April 1-9). Sargent is ranked third on the team in hitting (.349) and has tallied 17 RBI in 2017. Sargent’s season best is 18 RBI last season. Sargent is also on a four-game hitting streak, batting .667 (10-15) during that span.
Mallorie Cross came up with solid numbers against WKU, hitting .556 with three RBI and a double. During UTEP’s 10-2 (6) victory against WKU, Cross recorded a career-high three RBI on a 3-for-4 performance, which tied her career best in hits. Cross also threw a runner out during the weekend, giving Cross eight CS on the season, ranking tied eighth in Conference USA. Cross has started 32 of 37 games played, while making 26 starts behind the plate. Cross is hitting .310 with 14 RBI, leading all UTEP freshmen in both categories. Cross has reached base the last six games (April 2-9), hitting .375 with four walks and four RBI during that span.
Pamala Baber, who had struggled the previous eight contests leading up to the WKU series, connected on her first home run since March 8 at New Mexico. Baber hit her third dinger this season, a two-run shot in the second inning against the Hilltoppers. Baber registered a career-high three RBI on a 2-for-3 outing (tied career best in hits). Baber hit .375 in the WKU series and produced five RBI. Overall, Baber leads all UTEP freshman in home runs (three) and runs (17), while tallying 14 RBI.
Kiki Pepi leads UTEP with 32 RBI and is ranked tied seventh in the Conference USA. Pepi also leads the squad with a .356 batting average and is ranked tied second on the team with four home runs. Pepi recently connected on a solo home run at UTSA on April 1 that gave UTEP a 7-6 lead in the 10th and eventual victory. Pepi leads the Miners with eight multiple-RBI games that includes two games with five RBI each (career high). Pepi is also tied second on the team with 12 multiple-hit games.
Cortney Smith recorded a career high eight assists against WKU on April 9, surpassing her previous total of seven at FIU (3/26/16). Smith’s assists are ranked second in program history during a single game behind Kiki Pepi’s nine at FIU (3/25/16).
SMITH DIGS THE LONG BALL
Cortney Smith got off to a blazing start by connecting on six long balls the first 12 games of the season. Smith finally got a hold of her team-leading seventh dinger (ranks tied eighth in Conference USA), which came at UTSA during UTEP’s 10-inning epic victory on April 1. With the score 3-0, Smith put the Miners on the board with a solo shot over right center in the fifth on a 2-1 pitch. The home run sparked the Miners and surged them to a 7-6 triumph. The blast was her first since March 4 at Texas Tech. Though the home runs slowed down, her bat has been fast as she ranks fourth on the team with a .343 batting average. Smith has tallied 17 RBI with seven doubles, a triple and 21 runs. Smith ranks tied ninth in C-USA with WKU’s Brittany Vaughn and UTSA’s Bailee Baldwin.
Ariel Blair made a spectacular play against WKU in game two. WKU’s Rebekah Engelhardt had a runner at second and connected on a towering shot to left center. Blair made a nice read on the ball and made a leaping effort to steal it. The ball would end up ricocheting off her glove back into play and she snagged it as she fell to the ground to end the top third.
CENTER OF ATTENTION
Ariel Blair didn’t see much playing time leading up to Conference USA action and has started the last 15 of 16 games in center field. Blair is hitting .378 (14-37) with 10 runs and a team-leading four stolen bags. Blair has registered four games with multi-hit games (March 28-April 9) and is hitting .458 (11-24) during that span. Blair has tallied 43 putouts and three assists. Overall, Blair is hitting .300 with 16 runs and a team-leading four stolen bags.
Kaitlin Fifield recorded her first win of the season at UTSA on April 1 in a 10.0-inning effort. Against WKU, Fifield won her first game in her hometown of El Paso. The senior hurler threw a complete-game win (6.0 innings), while she won career game no. 24 to rank tied third on the program’s all-time list. Fifield has come on strong as of late, as she currently leads the staff win ERA (5.03) and innings pitched (78.0). In Conference USA only games, Fifield is 2-2 with a 3.93 ERA in 41.0 innings and a save.