UTEP softball struggles in the season opener

Freshman+pitcher+Victoria+Salazar+throws+the+first+pitch+of+the+season+for+the+UTEP+Miners+in+a+matchup+with+fourth+ranked+Oklahoma+Feb.+11.

Michael Cuviello

Freshman pitcher Victoria Salazar throws the first pitch of the season for the UTEP Miners in a matchup with fourth ranked Oklahoma Feb. 11.

An inexperienced UTEP softball team lost all four of its games in the Miner Invitational played Feb. 11 and 12 at Helen of Troy Stadium in El Paso. 

In the opening game of the tournament, the Miners took on the nation’s fourth-ranked Oklahoma Sooners. The latter featured three All Americans on its roster, including one of the best pitchers in the country, senior Giselle Juarez, coming off injury. Juarez is a two time All-American and has allowed only a .150 batting average for opponents in her career. 

From the opening inning, Oklahoma showed why they are one of the top teams in the nation as the team went through its first 13 batters before the Miners could secure an out. Four of its first six batters homered against the Miners, making it an early day for freshman pitcher Victoria Salazar. 

The Sooners would go on to score 13 runs in the first inning, including five home runs. UTEP’s first-inning would not go well offensively as Juarez stuck out the side for OklahomaAfter leading off with a home run, the Sooners would only be able to score one run in the second inning. The Miners would once again go three and out with two more strikeouts as the team trailed 14-0 after two innings. 

For four innings, the Sooners had a perfect game going with not one Miner reaching base. Sophomore outfielder Idalis Mendez broke up Oklahomas perfect game in the fifth inning with a single up to the middle of the field with one outfreshman Anna Sample also logged the first hit of her career after entering the game as a pinch hitter later in the inning. 

The Sooners would go on to win the game 29-0, with the Miners having its worse loss since 2009 against Arizona 20-1. UTEP had two hits for the game in 17 at-bats while the Sooners had 28 hits, including 13 home runs in 44 at-bats. 

Game two versus the Abilene Christian(ACU)Wildcats would see the young Miner bats come alive early, with junior third baseman Kasey Flores getting her first homer of the year with two outs giving the Miners the first lead of the young season. Unfortunately, the lead would be short-lived as the Wildcats would score three runs in the bottom of the second inning to take a 3-1 lead. 

The Miners kept it close through five innings with a three-run Bryanna Molina home run that closed the score to 6-5. For the next two innings, the Miners could only muster one more run while the Wildcats were able to score seven more on the way to a 13-6 victory. 

For the game, Flores would go 3 of 4 at the plate and Illena Santos and Mendes would add two more hits in the loss. The pitching struggled once again to keep batters off the bases giving up 18 hits on 37 at-bats. 

Day Two of the tournament saw the Miners open against the Wildcats in a game that featured only two innings of scoringThe Miners gave up five runs in the second to ACU that spurred by a walk and a wild pitch that preceded a grand slam home run from Wildcat Callie Burris that broke the score open with a 5-0 lead. 

From this point on, the Miners could get no spark on offense with four hits on the day. The Wildcats scored one more run in the sixth inning to make the final margin 6-0. Junior Pate Cathey had two of the four hits for the Miners and sophomore Zaylie Calderon pitched a strong four innings for the Miners in the loss. 

In the tournament’s final game for the Miners, it once again faced off with the Oklahoma Sooners and its murder’s row of hitters. The Sooners had scored 49 runs through its first three games while not giving up a single run. Sooner pitching had been dominant, only giving up four hits in three games. 

UTEP quickly fell behind the Sooners on a three-run homer in the first inning, while the Miners could only get a base runner on a walk to start its initial at-bats. The Sooners added another two runs in the second after a walk and a batter hit by a pitch put runners in scoring position for Oklahoma.  

Mendez, who broke up the perfect game the previous day, came away in the second for another hit versus Oklahoma. UTEP advanced the runners on a sacrifice bunt with sophomore catcher Karina Somoza hitting a twoout tworun single to put up the weekend’s first points for any team against Oklahoma. 

After two innings, the Miners were only down 5-2. The Miners held firm in the third inning, holding Oklahoma to only one run. Unfortunately, the Miners could not add any offense as two strikeouts and a groundout ended the inning three up three down. 

In the fourth and fifth innings is when Oklahoma was able to take advantage of the young Miners. Three straight home runs by the Sooners in the top of the fourth helped spur an eight-run inning. The Sooners added seven more runs in the fifth and final inning to crush UTEP 21-2 in the last game of the day. 

While the score was lopsided, the Miners actually got more hits against the Sooners than Oklahoma had given up in the three previous games combined. While the results did not look good on the field these were akin to exhibition games for an incredibly young Miner team that has not faced live competition since last season. 

“Our younger kids learned what it takes to compete at this level,” UTEP coach TJ Hubbard said. “This helped give the team a measuring stick, what they need to work on. We got to get the kids out on the field and see them from an evaluation standpoint. Over half of the roster are either freshmen or sophomores. Getting playing time for our young kids was the key thing.” 

“This biggest thing to me was our effort and our passion. We’re going to get punched in the mouth, we’re going to get kicked and we have to fight through it.” 

UTEP hosts the Northern Colorado Bears for a four-game series 4 p.m. Feb. 19 and 20 at Helen of Troy Stadium in El Paso. The Bears have yet to play a game this season. 

Michael Cuviello and Heriberto Perez may be reached at [email protected]