Only five days removed from the season-opening Red Desert Classic in St. George, Utah, the Utah Valley University softball team heads down to Las Vegas for another quintet of games at the Easton Desert Classic. Beginning Friday, the Wolverines will play five games in three days, including doubleheaders on Saturday and Sunday.
The weekend gets underway Friday in a 7 p.m. MT meeting with Long Beach State. Saturday's doubleheader features Toledo (4:45 p.m.) and host UNLV (7 p.m.), while another twin bill follows on Sunday as the Wolverines face Ohio State (10 a.m.) and Boise State (12:15 p.m.).
Live stats for all games except LBSU can be accessed through the Wolverine athletic website throughout the weekend.
"Our team is feeling really positive coming into this week," UVU head coach Nikki Palmer said. "We had a great week of practice, a focused week of practice, and I think everyone is ready to get back out there and put together a strong weekend."
Long Beach opened the season with a 3-2 record at its own Mizuno Invitational last weekend, earning wins over Santa Clara, George Washington and Kent State. Junior infielder Ashley Holmes went 6-for-11 (.545) in four games with two home runs and three RBIs. Pitcher Amanda Hansen was 3-0 with a 1.62 ERA for the 49ers.
Host UNLV began the season with a 1-4 mark at the Sportco Kick Off Classic, also played in Las Vegas. The Rebels picked up a victory over UC Davis but fell to Arkansas, Washington, Baylor and San Diego. Emily Haslinger, a sophomore catcher, pumped out two home runs for four RBIs last weekend, while a pair of UNLV pitchers got two starting nods. Amanda Oliveto and Alex Petrolia went 0-2.
Big Ten member Ohio State also went 1-4 at another Kick Off Classic, this time hosted by Florida Atlantic. The Buckeyes fell to the home-standing Owls and St. John's while also dropping extra-inning contests to Tulsa and Louisville. OSU claimed its only victory of the weekend against Northern Illinois in a 6-4 decision. Caitlin Conrad shone for the Buckeyes, batting .500 with two home runs and team-leading five RBIs.
Boise State is the third 1-4 team the Wolverines will face this weekend, coming off four consecutive losses at the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Ariz. The Broncos got the season started right with a 6-1 win over Utah but suffered four straight losses to Creighton, North Carolina State, Northwestern and Oregon.
Finally, Toledo will be making its 2014 season debut at the Easton Desert Classic. Last season, the Rockets went 17-36, and this year they are led by sophomore outfielder Jessica Lemieux who batted .371 in 40 games last season and drove in 21 runs. Pitcher Marla Gooding, another sophomore, also returns after going 11-23 and posting a team-best 4.41 ERA a year ago.
The Wolverines are a combined 2-9 against this weekend's competition, with all 11 of those matchups coming against LBSU, UNLV and BSU. UVU is 2-3 against the Broncos but has never beaten the 49ers or Rebels.
This is the second trip to the Easton Desert Classic for Utah Valley in its program history. Making their debut last season, the Wolverines went 1-4, suffering losses to host UNLV, No. 7 Oregon, No. 9 California and No. 20 Hawai'i. UVU's lone win came against eventual WAC champion San Jose State, 4-1.
Utah Valley will be seeking its first win of the season in Las Vegas after going 0-5 at the Red Desert Classic last weekend. A few freshmen showed potential at the Classic as Brianna Gatlin and Brittney Vansway batted a team-leading .333, while Hailey Kofler belted her first career home run in only her second at-bat during the Wolverines' 7-3 loss to Idaho State. Gatlin also had an RBI against the Bengals.
Following the Easton Desert Classic, another five-game tournament awaits UVU at the end of February. Hosted by LBSU, the Mayfair Invitational will pit the Wolverines against the likes of Illinois, Oregon State and Michigan. Oregon State was an NCAA qualifier a year ago while the Wolverines of UM, currently ranked fourth in the nation, advanced all the way to the College World Series.
Kellen Hiser is an assistant sports information director at Utah Valley University. For more information on Wolverine athletics, visit WolverineGreen.com.