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Softball stumbles at NMSU, heads to road

Ruby Cerino
The UTEP softball team will play the NMSU Aggies again on April 28 in El Paso.

The New Mexico State Aggies used an eight run sixth inning to defeat the visiting Miners by a final score of 12-6. In a place where victories historically have been hard to come by, the Miners let a  great oportunity to notch a valuable win slip away.

After the one-game break from conference, UTEP resumes its Conference USA schedule with a visit from Southern Miss. The Miners will host the Golden Eagles for a three-game series at the Helen of Troy Softball Complex. The teams will play two games on Saturday, March 28 and one on Sunday, March 29.

A mistake by the Aggies—a failure to cover second on a potential double play in the top of the sixth—lead to a much needed insurance run for the Miners. However, several mistakes in the bottom of the sixth by the Miners would allow the Aggies to put up eight runs and win the game.

Heading into the battle of I-10, UTEP head coach Tobin Echo-Hawk knew that whichever team avoided the big mistakes was going to come away with the victory.

“Getting two runs ahead in that sixth inning—that was a big thing. But, with a team like this that hits the way they do you just have to be prepared no matter what. You can never just think you have it in the bag, cause they’re gonna keep coming at you,” Echo-Hawk said.

Sophomore pitcher Kaitlin Fifield battled the Aggies number one starter, junior Karysta Donisthorpe, who came into the game with a 2.68 earned run average. For a while it looked like she was going to come out on top. Despite giving up a first inning three run home run, Fifield pitched four more innings without giving up an earned run.

UTEP was able to chase the Aggies’ number one starter in the fourth inning after two home runs and a run scoring double by freshman Hope Moreno.

Echo-Hawk was pleased with Fifield’s performance but felt that a tight strike zone by home plate umpire Geri Magwire affected her young pitcher.

“I think that she got a little frustrated. She let the umpire’s zone get to her a little bit. When you’re doing that you start to stiffen a little bit and you don’t really stay on your game plan,” Echo-Hawk said. “She just needs to do a better job of staying on her game plan regardless of what the umpire’s strike zone is like.”

The partisan NMSU crowd came to life only after Fifield gave up a walk to load the bases with two outs in the bottom of the sixth.

An error at shortstop by junior Kawehiokalani Netane, which was ruled a hit by the NMSU scorer, allowed two runs to score and bring the score to 6-6. Fifield continued to struggle with finding the strike zone and once again loaded the bases with a walk before giving up a grand slam to Aggie leftfielder Malena Padilla.

Echo-Hawk was unhappy with her team—rather than her pitcher—following the game.

“Having them score eight runs with two outs is not ok. We should have made plays and we didn’t. We told them before the game that they’re going to hit the ball hard and to be expecting it,” Echo-Hawk said.

Much like last week’s close losses to No. 25 University of Alabama-Birmingham, Echo-Hawk was able to find plenty of good in tonight’s tough loss.

Freshman catcher Kaitlin Ryder caught two base stealers and hit one of the Miners’ three home runs. Junior Danielle Pearson hit her first home run for UTEP and at any level.

More than anything, Echo-Hawk was happy with the fight that her team put up.

“There’s a lot of good—they kept going at them­—especially getting down early 3-0. They could have laid over and just let the game happen but, they fought back. If you end the game in the fifth inning we’re fine. But, you’ve got to play all seven,” Echo-Hawk said.

Echo-Hawk and her squad now turn their attentions back to Conference USA, where they are at the bottom of the West Division with a record of 3-3. Of the 12 teams in the league, six have a winning record—four of them are in the Miners’ division. That places the Miners in fifth place, only ahead of the 1-8 Golden Eagles.

Southern Miss is 15-14 overall on the year, worlds better than the Miners’ 8-23, but are currently on a seven-game losing streak that has them as one of the worst teams in the conference. Their last victory came over two weeks ago and it is the Golden Eagles’ lone conference win—a 5-4 win over UTSA at home.

Despite a decent conference start, the Miners swept Middle Tennessee and got swept at No. 25 UAB, UTEP is near the bottom of Conference USA in both team batting and pitching average. The Miners’ .287 average at the plate as  a team is 10th and the 6.33 earned runs they allow per game is the worst in the league.

Southern Miss is the fifth best when it comes to offense, with a .255 batting average as a team, and also at the mound where the Golden Eagles have a 3.45 team ERA.

USM’s junior infielder Morgan McKeever comes in to the series as the tenth best hitter in the conference. McKeever is just under .400 when it comes to batting average, recording 35 hits and bringing in 18 runs on the year.

Sophomore right-handed pitcher Samantha Robles is also among the top ten pitchers in the league with an ERA of 2.65. She has nine appearances in which she has allowed 28 hits, 13 earned runs and has struck out 29 batters.

The all-time series between Miners and Golden Eagles is very even. UTEP holds a 13-12 edge over Southern Miss, who beat the Miners two of the three times they faced each other in 2014.

All teams enjoy playing at home rather than on the road and look to make. T heir park a place where visiting teams will struggle to get a victory. So far this year, the Miners’ preference to playing at home has really shown.

UTEP has yet to win a game on the road, having played 10, and has yet to lose at home, winning all five of the games they have played at the Helen of Troy Softball Complex.

“It’s just nice to be at home,” Echo-Hawk said. “It’s nice to be in a familiar place and wake up in your own bed. There’s nothing better than playing in front of your friends and family, and have that crowd support.”

Jason Green may be reached at [email protected].

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Softball stumbles at NMSU, heads to road