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Softball just misses tournament berth

Ruby Cerino
UTEP first baseman Courtney Clayton attempts to make a catch.

It is almost a shame to even mention the fact that UTEP missed the Conference USA tournament for the fifth consecutive year. It makes the season sound as if it was a total loss. That is far from the truth.

Although a 14-39 record would probably be frowned upon by those outside the program, someone who has been there all season can easily find the upside.

The team was only two wins away from making it to the conference tournament during head coach Tobin Echo-Hawk’s second season. A boggling propensity for losing games on the road, the team was 0-19 away from home, costing the team a shot at the postseason.

One likely factor in the team’s road woes could be the roster that only contained two seniors, Ashley Eldridge and Tahla Wade.

The team was very young and may have had trouble adjusting to being away from home.

Another factor contributing to the 25 game disparity is the fact that Echo-Hawk scheduled what can only be described as the hardest tournament schedule that UTEP softball has ever faced.

The Miners played four games against ranked opponents in only the first three weeks of the season. The team traveled around the Southwest and to Hawaii during the course of playing four early-season tournaments.

Almost every game was against opponents of a higher-caliber team.

Echo-Hawk is proud of the resilience that her young team showed in playing a tough schedule and getting used to life in NCAA Division I softball.

“It was a good season,” Echo-Hawk said. “We overcame a lot of adversity and showed true resilience.”

This year’s team was led by seniors Eldridge and Wade. Eldridge – a pre-season, all-conference selection – led the team with 37 runs batted in. The Las Vegas native batted .340 with eight home runs. Wade continued the improvement that she has shown every season. Finishing the season with a .333 average and 17 stolen bases – playing almost every game as the table setter in the leadoff spot.

Junior outfielder Morgan Rasmason says that the two seniors have set the young UTEP team up for future success.

“Our seniors, Tahla and Ashley, left our program with a solid foundation for the years to come,” Rasmason said. “I’m excited to see how much further we can take it.”

Freshman infielder Hope Moreno hopes that her team will rise to the challenge of replacing such important contributors to the team’s efforts.

“We lost two seniors this year; both had a huge impact on our team – offensively and defensively – so, those will be some big shoes to fill,” Moreno said. “But, we are all going to have to step up and work twice as hard.”

The team’s immediate future will be led by rising junior Kawehiokalani Netane. The Orlando native will be joined by Rasmason, Danielle Pearson and Jade Rodriguez as the four seniors on next year’s team.

This season, Netane led the team in most batting categories while nursing an injured shoulder down the stretch. A healthy Netane will be looking to improve even more on her outstanding .357 average, eight home runs and four triples.

Three new players will return next season looking to improve on a very good first season in the orange and blue.

Sophomore transfer Kiki Pepi fit in nicely on her new team after coming to UTEP from Pac-12 power Oregon last offseason. Pepi batted .311 with four home runs and 25 RBI.

Two freshmen played the majority of UTEP’s games this season in the infield. Both took a little time to adjust to college softball, but showed plenty of what the team can look forward to for the next three years.

Taylor Sargent batted .232 while playing an outstanding defensive first base. Courtney Clayton batted .305 with seven home runs and 30 RBI in what could most likely be a C-USA Newcomer of the Year award-winning season.

Despite a very disappointing end to the season for two outstanding seniors, the future looks bright for the Miners’ softball team. Echo-Hawk and staff continue to recruit well and train the players under their care to be the best that they can be.

Despite the fact that this season should not be considered a bad one, Moreno may have said it best: “There’s nowhere to go but up.”

Jason Green may be reached at [email protected].

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Softball just misses tournament berth