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Wednesday, February 23, 2011 - 9:50pm
The New Mexico State softball team travels to El Paso Thursday afternoon to battle I-10 rival UTEP for the squads' first meeting this year as part of the UTEP Invitational that runs through Saturday.
The 5 p.m. MT rivalry contest at the Miners' Helen of Troy Softball Complex marks the first road game for the Aggies after posting a 10-2 record as hosts of back-to-back tournaments. NM State swept six games to win the Hotel Encanto Invitational title. The Crimson and White went 4-2 in the Troy Cox Classic last weekend, with the only pair of losses to No. 6 Oklahoma.
The Aggies' 10 wins in 12 games matches the program's best start. Both of those starts have also occurred under head coach Kathy Rodolph in 2007 and in 2009. Rodolph is four wins shy of 200 victories at NM State and could reach that milestone this weekend in the Sun City.
NM State opens with a single game against UTEP Thursday followed by a doubleheader Friday against Bradley and Texas State beginning at 9:30 a.m. The Aggies face TSU a second time on Saturday at 2 p.m. before wrapping up the Invitational against North Dakota at 6 p.m.
UTEP swept the Aggies in the two-game series a year ago while Bradley squeaked past NM State at the 2010 Troy Cox Tournament, 4-2.
Senior Kandis Jones leads the Aggie offense with a .447 batting average this season and 17 hits. Classmate Hoku Nohara ripped a grand slam last weekend, one of her five home runs this season to lead the squad. Nohara also leads the team with 18 RBI and a .931 slugging percentage.Junior Tiare Jennings is second on the team in RBI with 14 and third on the Aggies with a .406 average.
Freshman Valerie Swedberg touts the second-best slugging percentage on the team at .750 and leads NM State in doubles this season.
In the circle sophomore Alex Newman leads NM State with a 2.75 ERA and an unblemished record at 4-0. Newman tops the Aggies in innings pitched at 20.1 and strikeouts with 12. Junior Sydney Williard is second on the team in wins with two as well as ERA at 3.00. Williard has held opposing batters to just .194 this year at the plate to lead the staff.
As a team, NM State carries a .342 batting average at the plate and has out-scored opponents 99-62 this season. The Aggies claim 107 hits and 84 RBI with double-digit advantages over their foes in those categories this year.
UTEP (4-5) enters the rivalry matchup as losers of five of their last seven after opening with a pair of wins against Northern Colorado to begin the season. Last weekend the Miners hosted Houston Baptist in a three-game series, dropping games one and three.
Inside the Series: New Mexico State leads the all-time series against UTEP 14-9 but the Miners have won five of the last six meetings between the teams. UTEP stunned the Aggies 22-5 last year in the Hotel Encanto Invitational and then shutout NM State 5-0 in El Paso on March 23.
In 2009, the rivals split their two meetings with each team winning at home in offensive slugfests. The Miners won two of three in 2008 both in El Paso, while the Aggies won in Las Cruces. The Miners have won their last six home games in the series. The last time NM State won in El Paso was in 2005, scoring a 10-1 victory. The teams have met at least twice every year with each school as host since 2004, the inaugural year of the Miner softball program.
Scouting the Miners: UTEP (4-5) of Conference USA is 3-2 at home this season and 1-3 on the road after a trip to Northern Iowa the first weekend of the season. As a comparison, the Miners swept Northern Colorado to open the season 12-1 and 6-2 on Feb. 10, while the Aggies defeated the Bears 7-3 and 6-1 later the same weekend in the Hotel Encanto Invitational.
Co-head coaches James and Kathleen Rodriguez have guided the Miners since their inaugural season in 2004. Together the couple has spent the last 11 seasons together in the dugout, the last seven in El Paso.
This season, junior Chelsea Troupe and freshman Camille Herrera lead the squad with a .429 batting average. Senior Kia Moore leads the Miners with 10 hits while sophomore Kayleigh Walts' 11 RBI is best on the squad.
As a team, the Miners hit .313 from the batter's box with 66 hits this season. UTEP carries a slugging percentage of .445 and on-base mark of .397 into the series.
In the circle, senior Courtney Auger and freshman Laura Ramos have seen the most time dealing to the plate. Ramos leads the Miners with a 5.06 ERA and carries a 1-2 record. Auger has a 5.85 ERA with a 2-2 record.
NM State will match up with the Miners again on March 9 in the next Aggie home game at NM State Softball Complex.