On the road again

By By Tom Quinn and By Tom Quinn

By Tom Quinn

The U softball team, which seems determined to log more miles than the average long-haul truck driver, will once again hit the road to test its mettle against some of the country’s top teams at the annual UTEP Invitational.

This El Paso, Texas-based tournament is the third of six on the team’s preseason schedule, and, as a result, will act as a midterm evaluation of sorts. So far, head coach Angie Jacobs is pleased with the progress the rapidly improving Utes have made.

“We need to work on our mindset and the approach that our athletes take at the plate,” she said. “I don’t think that it’s where it needs to be right now, but I definitely saw improvement in that area from the first to second weekends. It’s just a matter of ironing out the wrinkles.”

One player who hasn’t been having much trouble at the plate is Hailey Davenport, a sophomore slugger who took Sin City by storm last weekend. In addition to hitting three home runs in the Utes’ last two games, Davenport recorded four of the team’s 19 RBI.

Davenport and Co. will likely find runs hard to come by in this morning’s first-round showdown with Big Ten powerhouse Wisconsin. The Badgers’ Letty Olivarez, a freshman hurler who boasts a 1.47 ERA, leads a trio of talented pitchers that should challenge even the Utes’ most talented sluggers.

The Badgers’ offense is similarly impressive, and will likely keep Utah’s pitching duo of Meghan Dyer and Karina Cannon on their proverbial toes. Junior outfielder Katie Hnatyk is arguably the best hitter in school history, and is just one round-tripper away from becoming the Badgers’ all-time home run leader.

Later this afternoon, the Utes will face tournament host University of Texas at El Paso in what could be a very low-scoring affair. The Miners have already posted five shutouts this season, thanks in part to Nichole Tunget, one of the top pitchers in Conference USA.

When the Utes take the field, they will have to deal with a UTEP offense that has a habit of putting up points in bunches. Led by sophomore infielder Amber Bennett, who was named to the All-Tournament team at last weekend’s Troy Cox Classic, the Miners have hit a mind-boggling four grand slams on the season.

Although UTEP’s group of talented sluggers have given several teams indigestion over the course of the season, Jacobs is confident that Utah’s pitchers are more than capable of slowing them down.

“I think that our pitching staff has been doing very well these first two weeks,” she said. “We need to work on our consistency, but overall, I’m pleased with what I have seen from our pitchers so far this season.”

Fortunately for the road-weary Utes, the second day of the tournament won’t be nearly as taxing as the first. On the slate for Saturday are Northern Colorado and Buffalo, neither of which should be much of a challenge for the Utes.

The former hasn’t scored a run in five games while the latter is still looking for its first win of the season. While bracket play is set to begin Sunday morning, Utah’s first opponent probably won’t be determined until tomorrow night.