ARLINGTON, Texas - Chemistry is not a problem for the UT Arlington Softball infield. The Mavericks return three from a group that 12th in the nation in doubles plays turned and includes two returning Sun Belt All-Conference selections.
Senior second baseman Sandra Mendoza and sophomores Aileen Garcia (first base) and Whitney Walton (shortstop) make up the core of UTA's infield group, with competition battling it out for the position at third. The group turned 31 double plays last season on the defensive side, and provided a lot an offense that is ready to knock it around the field this year.
"It is really nice to have an experienced infield that has the comfort with playing with one another," UTA coach Peejay Brun said. "There wasn't a lot of teaching that I had to do with them. It was more fine tuning and teaching the style that I want them to play with, but it made it easier because the communication and understanding with one another was already there. So going into this year we are already setting a higher standard for what we want our expectations to be.
Mendoza, a two-time All-Conference player and 2016 NFCA All-Region selection, leads the crew in experience as the Eagle Pass, Texas native has played all three years at second. Garcia had a breakout season and led the infield in hitting .316 last season, while Walton led the Mavericks with seven home runs.
"It feels so great getting to work with them for my final year because I already have such good chemistry with them," Mendoza said. "They bring so much energy and it is just super exciting to play with them. It feels great to have so much depth on our team and I think that is going to be great for us throughout the entire year. If someone gets hurt we will have a backup that is just as good as the person starting. We have so much speed and just as much fight with everyone on the team.
For Garcia, the honor of being selected to the league's preseason team was something that she is only hope to help push herself this season. She said seeing her name on the list came as a bit of surprise, with the team's academic advisor actually being the one that let her know. Using the expectations the league has put on her has just helped drive her even more.
"I want to be more vocal on the field and more inclusive with my teammates," Garcia said. "I have to work on me, but helping my teammates out is a main concern this year. We were ranked in double plays last year, so it means a lot that we are all close and shows what kind of chemistry we have as a group."
Beyond Mendoza, Walton and Garcia, the group to fill in the third base position may bring just as much to the team as each brings their own piece to the puzzle. Brun said that in trying to figure out who will get the Opening Day start, she knows that the others around them will be just as ready to bring what they have to the table.
"It is still very much a battle with all three," Brun said. "All three bring something to the table. There are a lot of days where their bats our alive and it is making the decision even harder. No one has stood out as of now and we are going to have to wait until game day to see who is putting gap between the other two. All three are doing a great job at third and all three are doing a great job at the plate. It is a matter of seeing on one end what kind of hitter do we need and on the other are we going to be basing it on the quickness or someone that can cover the range. As we get closer it will depend on those factors.
UTA opens its 2018 slate under first-year head coach Peejay Brun on Friday, Feb. 9 in Baton Rouge, La. at the Tiger Classic against Syracuse. UTA then takes on Texas Tech in the highly anticipated home opener on Feb. 13 at 3 p.m. at Allan Saxe Field.
HOW TO BUY TICKETS
Full season and single-game tickets to attend UTA baseball and softball events will be on sale on Friday, Dec. 8 through the UTA Box Office in person or by calling (817) 272-8585 and online throughUTATickets.com. Season tickets are available for as low as $75 for softball and $75 for baseball. Single-game tickets begin at $6, while tickets for Feb. 27th’s date vs. TCU and April 24 vs. OU begin at $10. Tickets for UTA’s matchup against Baylor at Globe Life Park on March 6 are $12. UTA students and faculty staff tickets are available for just $5 for a single game or at a reduced rate for season tickets. Visit UTATickets.com for detailed information.
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