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Softball travels to Las Cruces for Battle of I-10

Ruby Cerino
The Miners’ softball team is 5-3 over its last eight games and 3-3 in Conference USA.

The UTEP softball team (8-22) will head to Las Cruces tomorrow to take on the NMSU Aggies (18-8) in the continuation of softball’s portion of the I-10 rivalry.

The Miners headed into last weekend’s matchup with the No. 25 University of Alabama-Birmingham Blazers riding a five-game winning streak. The team did not leave Birmingham with the streak intact, but the three losses were far from crushing defeats. Head coach Tobin Echo-Hawk took a lot of positives from her team’s recent road losses.

“I can’t be disappointed by the three games,” Echo-Hawk said. “We played really well against one of the top teams in the country and that just kind of shows what we are capable of when we are playing really well.”

The Miners’ pitching—which ranked among the league’s worst last season—has made quite a turnaround in the last few weeks.

Sophomore pitcher Kaitlin Fifield has been vital in the recent run of wins and close finishes. In Sunday’s series finale with the Blazers, Fifield gave up only one earned run during her six innings of work. Echo-Hawk is very pleased with her young pitcher’s work so far this season.

“She did a great job holding that team to two runs. She got herself into some jams but, she got out of it. We had the bases loaded with one out and came away with no runs scored against us,” Echo-Hawk said. “She’s just been on fire—really consistent—you can tell that her confidence level just keeps getting better and better every game.”

Great pitching will definitely be needed when the team heads down I-10 to face one of the most prolific offenses so far in this young softball season. The Aggies have combined for 43 home runs so far this season and have six regular starters batting .350 or above.

Echo-Hawk knows that the Miners will have to put on a performance equal to or better than what they did against UAB if they want to head home with a victory.

“They are a tremendous hitting team. We are going to have to play our best in order to compete with them. I think our pitching is very similar. It’s just who is going to make the least amount of errors and get those timely hits,” Echo-Hawk said. “Their offense is one of the best in the country so, we definitely have a huge task in front of us.”

Echo-Hawk will be counting on team leaders such as junior infielder Kawehiokalani Netane and senior outfielder Ashley Eldridge to get the timely hits needed to defeat NMSU. Netane currently sports a .389 batting average to go along with four home runs and 20 runs batted in. Eldridge leads the team in RBIs with 22 and also has four home runs.

Two freshmen have started almost every game for the young Miners team—infielders Courtney Clayton and Taylor Sargent. Echo-Hawk knows that their batting averages are not where the players would like them to be but that they have a lot to offer the team as a whole.

“They’re just really consistent. Offensively they’re capable of a lot more than what they’re showing—it’s just, I think, freshman jitters and getting used to things,” Echo-Hawk said. Defensively, they’re just both so solid. It’s nice to have two freshmen on the infield be as talented as they are.”

After sweeping Middle Tennessee State for their first conference opening 3-0 start since 2010, the Miners also took both games from Texas Tech at the Helen of Troy Softball Complex. Although they lost all three at University of Alabama at Birmingham, Echo-Hawk has her team focused on revenge against their heated rival for now. She is glad that her team had extra time during spring break to focus on themselves.

It will be the 33rd time Miners and Aggies play each other. NMSU holds the edge with a record of 22-10 in the series. UTEP has only won twice in Aggie territory, and the last time the Miners left Las Cruces with a victory was in 2010.

“NMSU is probably the most important for us, just being a cross-town rival. I know we beat them last year, but overall in the last five years I think we are one and 10 or 12—so, that’s been our major focus for this weekend,” Echo-Hawk said. “Especially since they had the weekend off. We kind of just free up every thought process and focus on them.”

Jason Green may be reached at [email protected].

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Softball travels to Las Cruces for Battle of I-10