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Friday, November 28, 2014

Softball: Versatility key to success

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By Di Linh Hoang / New Mexico Daily Lobo

Junior infielder Jordan Sjostrand reaches for the ball as runner Whitney Smith of Fresno State barely makes it to base Sunday afternoon at Lobo field. The Lobos will begin a three-game series against San José State today.

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Experience is not going to be a factor during the final stretch for the New Mexico softball team.

“At this point in the season we consider them all veterans,” head coach Erica Beach said. “We don’t put too much emphasis on how old whoever’s on the field.”

UNM (11-25, 2-7 MW) started the season out with 11 underclassmen on the 18 man roster. Ally Hakeem, Chelsea Anaya and Jordan Sjostrand were the only seniors on the depth chart.

Due to a bad hop in practice, the Lobos will only have two remaining seniors on the lineup card. Anaya took a softball off of her collar bone during drills and will miss the remainder of the season.

Beach added that Anaya hurt her collarbone last season as well. Despite only playing 27 games in the 2013 campaign, Anaya was named the Lobos’ Offensive Player of the Year after batting .367, driving in 20 runs, and slugging .532.

“It’s tough any time you lose a main player, a leader, it’s tough,” Beach said. “Our depth is starting to fade. We’re getting thinner and thinner.”

The Lobos will miss their leadoff hitting second baseman who had belted four homers, collecting 15 RBIs, while still hitting for a .299 average in 36 games.

“It’s hard to replace, especially a veteran and a senior,” Beach said. “Our second base is going to be rotating between those two… between Shelbie (Franc) and Mia (Hignojos).”

Franc will now be adding second base to her repertoire of positions after predominantly splitting time at the catching position with Naomi Tellez. Hignojos is listed as an outfielder on the current roster but will quickly have to adapt to the hard dirt of the infield.

After dropping two of three games to Fresno State (21-13, 6-3 MW) New Mexico is going to have to overcome its thin bench in order to jump back into the thick of the conference race. Beach said she is pleased with the team’s ability to remain attentive.

“I think the kids have refocused well this week,” Beach said. “We’re lucky to have a very versatile team, we have kids who can play multiple positions.”

The Lobos will begin a three-game series against San José State (21-15, 4-2 MW) today. The Spartans have fared well playing at home going 5-1 thus far in the season.

The Spartans have taken two of three in both conference series in which they have partaken. UNM has yet to claim a conference series.

However, history favors the Lobos. UNM has won 13 games in the last 20 instances the two ball clubs have faced off.

Jessie Hufstetler is the Spartans leading hitter with a .467 batting average.

She ranks third in the Mountain West with her average but the two names in front of her have only tallied a combined 39 at-bats. Hufstetler has seen 105 plate appearances.

“They have had really good energy out there right now… I think they are ready to play San José State,” Beach said. “They want to get some wins.”