Jan. 27, 2017
By Brooke Ortale | UTAMavs.com
ARLINGTON, TEXAS - After a strong 2016, UTA softball comes into 2017 more confident than ever and that is in large part due to the mentality of the corner infielders this season.
"The confidence has really helped me have a little more swagger on the field," senior Shelbi Sikes said. "This year I'm hoping to be less intimidated by the bigger teams and walk in with the same confidence we have for any other team."
The Mavs will have a familiar face at third base with Sikes returning to the hot corner for her senior season.
"It's going to be very exciting," Sikes said. "Just the fact that it's our last go around. It's going to be a whole new level for us considering we've never had to go through [last career games]. This is it and it's time to give everything we've got and leave it all on the field."
The Crandall, Texas native played her first two seasons in the outfield before making the transition to the infield last year. Not only did Sikes hold down the fort at third base, but she comes into 2017 with the highest fielding percentage (.982) of any returner, making only two errors in 113 chances.
"Shelbi did a great job for us at third base last year," Fox said. "For us it's making all of the plays that are routine and even more than that, she made some that we weren't expecting her to make. The biggest thing for us was we needed a third baseman that was going to field all of the bunts and going to field all of the grounders that are right at her. She did what we asked her to do."
Sikes has been a mainstay in the Maverick lineup, playing in 149 games over the course of her career at UTA. She is the Mavs' single-season RBI record holder, driving in 45 runs during her 2015 sophomore campaign. She cracked UTA's single-season base on balls top-10 list in 2016 with 30, placing her in a tie for eighth.
With 70 walks over the last three seasons, she ranks eighth in career base-on-balls, chasing Jill Garro (03-06) at the top with 141. A strong senior season can see her break into a number of career top-10 lists for UTA including doubles, extra-base hits, and RBI.
There will be a new look over at first base for the Mavs in 2017. With Rebecca Stokes departing due to graduation and Bri Burchianti moving to the outfield, a competitive battle opened up at first base. Freshman Aileen Garcia appears to have taken the spot and ran with it.
"She shows confidence, a little cocky attitude and I love it," Sikes said. "Coming in as a freshman I was intimidated and I don't think I've seen that from her yet. Her and Whitney [Walton] both have confidence and it's going to help us build off of them. I feel like we all build off each other."
The Houston, Texas product enters her freshman season after an illustrious high school career in which she earned NFCA First-Team All-Region and NFCA Third-Team All-American at Pearland HS. She was a 2016 6A State Runner-up for the Oilers.
Playing catcher most of her career, Garcia playing first base for the Mavs is a bit of a change but the concept of both positions are pretty similar.
"The name of both games is to catch the ball as best as I can," Garcia said. "It's kind of different thinking because I'm not bending over like usual. But I work every day and try to help my teammates out as best as I can."
The depth of the Mavericks is going to be talked about a ton throughout the season. Hailing from Bonita, Calif., freshman Brittany Wyllie had a strong fall, making some highlight real plays at both third and first base.
"Brittany defensively has really impressed us," Fox said. "She's got a great glove and a great arm so defensively she's done a great job. She's continuing to work on her offensive side of the game. She's gotten opportunities and I expect her to get some opportunities this spring. "
Freshman Carley Ruffino also saw some time at third base in the fall. With Ruffino and Wyllie pushing at the corners, it speaks volumes to the depth of UTA.
"We have plenty of depth," Sikes said. "Anywhere you look there is somebody right behind you ready to go and ready to take your spot at any moment. If we absolutely need anyone, we have someone in our dugout that can help us.
"It's going to help the people that are playing mature and know we have to bust our butt every single day just like they are busting their butt every single day to make this team better."
2017 Positional Preview
Middle Infield - Jan. 25
Corner Infield - Jan. 27
Outfield - Feb. 1
Pitcher - Feb. 3
Catcher/DP - Feb. 6
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