Softball opens home slate after hitting stride in Vegas

The+UTEP+softball+team+will+open+their+home+schedule+against+NMSU+on+Tuesday+at+6+p.m.

Michaela Román

The UTEP softball team will open their home schedule against NMSU on Tuesday at 6 p.m.

Adrian Broaddus, Copy Editor

After an early season rut, the Miners’ softball team (4-6) was able to bounce back midway through the Marucci Desert Classic this past weekend in Las Vegas to win their last three games.

The winning spark for the team came just in time as they will host Battle of I-10 rival New Mexico State (3-3) on Tuesday, Feb. 20,  and the UTEP Tournament from Friday through Sunday against Portland State (1-3) and Idaho State (0-5) at Helen of Troy Softball Complex.

Last Friday, Feb. 16, at the Desert Classic, the Miners had a busy slate with games against Nevada and Boise State, then with a quick turnaround against New Mexico, UNLV and South Dakota on Saturday and Sunday.

Nevada went up big with a 6-0 lead in the first four innings, led by Kenzi Goins, who finished 2-for-4, including a two-run home run and five RBIs. The Miners attempted a late comeback, sparked by an RBI in the fifth by Courtney Clayton and a home run in the sixth by Pamala Baber, but it wasn’t enough as they fell 6-2.

Although the Miners led 1-0 coming into the fifth inning against Boise State, the Broncos had a huge seven-run fifth inning that capped the game for the Broncos, eventually winning 8-2 over the Miners. UTEP was led by Clayton and Cortney Smith, who each had solo home runs in the fourth and sixth inning, respectively.

Needless to say, at 1-6 overall, the Miners were in a must-win situation on Saturday.

First on the slate was former WAC rival New Mexico, and the Miners stomped on the Lobos, 8-0. Pitchers Devyn Cretz and Kira McKechnie combined for a no-hitter in the game, while Clayton went a solid 3-for-3 with three runs scored.

“It was just a good all-around game and I think some people had good individual performances, but I think it was a great team win,” said UTEP head coach Tobin Echo-Hawk in a press release. “It wasn’t one person who did everything, and talking about a no-hitter, two pitchers played a part in that, but we talked a lot yesterday that we are a unit and we’re doing it together.”

Then the Miners had a larger task, taking on a six-win UNLV team in their home stadium. Both teams traded blows at the beginning, with UNLV exploding with a four-run fourth inning, and they led 5-3 early on after the fifth.

“I told (the team) to keep fighting,” Echo-Hawk said. “We’re a good team and if you keep fighting, things are going to happen and they did. We put the pressure on them and when you put pressure on other teams, it forces them to make mistakes.”

In the sixth, Ariana Valles knocked in a RBI to cut the Rebels’ lead to one.

Then, Kaitlin Ryder had a two RBI single to go-ahead 6-5. An error by UNLV in the seventh resulted in a score. Ariel Blair used a bunt to help Kacey Duffield score, making it 8-5 in favor of UTEP. UNLV tried a late attempt with two runs in the bottom of the seventh, but it wasn’t enough as the Miners prevailed 8-7.

“It was a crazy game, but it’s the kind of games you love,” Echo-Hawk said. “It was a battle and I think our kids did a nice job. We went ahead and (UNLV) came back and (UTEP) did a nice job of not giving up, continued to fight and our hitters were on it.”

On the last day in the Desert Classic, the Miners found themselves in an early rut against South Dakota, trailing 4-0 at the end of the first, then 5-0 leading into the bottom of the third inning. But the Miners exploded in the bottom of the third, finishing with six runs and taking the 6-5 lead.

They added one more run in the bottom of the sixth and held South Dakota scoreless through the last four innings to take the 7-5 win.

“(The team) just kept plugging away,” Echo-Hawk said. “I think with yesterday’s big wins, it gave the team confidence. I didn’t see them panic at all and they have this look of trust in their eyes no matter what was going to happen–we were going to win that game. You just have to love it when a team gets to that point.”

Now, the Miners will have to take on a talented Aggies squad on Tuesday evening and five games in three days for the third time this season beginning on Friday, Feb. 23.

NMSU has wins against the likes of Kentucky, who was ranked as high as No. 13, and played No. 1 Oklahoma close, eventually falling 2-0 this past Saturday. They are led by infielder Rachel Rodriguez, who has 10 hits, and also utility player Kelsey Horton, who has two home runs and eight hits.

First pitch between the two rivals will start at 6 p.m.

On Friday, the Miners will play host for the start of the UTEP Tournament as they take on Portland State at 3:30 p.m. Following that game, they will play Idaho State at 6 p.m. On Saturday, the Miners will take on Idaho State again at 3:30 p.m., followed by a game against Portland State at 6 p.m. They will conclude the tournament against Portland State on Sunday, as the first pitch is slated for 12:30 p.m.

Follow Adrian Broaddus on Twitter @adrian_broaddus