Senior outfielder Ariel Morbeck
SUU Strategic Communications

SUU Opens Big Sky Play at Portland State

March 20, 2013
By SUU Strategic Communication

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CEDAR CITY, Utah - Southern Utah (6-18) will play in its premier Big Sky Conference games with a road series at Portland State (8-20) this week. The two teams are scheduled to open play with a doubleheader on Friday at 3 p.m. (MT), before meeting in a final game on Saturday at 1:00 p.m. The T-Birds  are coming off a California trip in which they played nine games over six days and earned victories against IUPUI, Iona and Miami (OH). The Vikings went 1-3 in Boise, Idaho last week, splitting games with Utah State and dropping a pair of contests to the Broncos. PSU was picked to capture the inaugural Big Sky championship after taking back-to-back titles during its final two years in the Pacific Coast Softball Conference.

Kadi Henderson and Kelsey Bryant are tied for the SUU team lead with 14 RBI so far this season while Mikkel Griffin holds a .312 batting average and a team-high four home runs. Bryant and Henderson have also each hit three dingers. Ariel Zimmerman holds a record of 3-10 in the circle and has struck out 62 batters in 82.2 innings. Danielle Axe is 2-6 on the year but leads SUU with a 4.70 ERA.

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The Thunderbird lineup showed signs that it is beginning to heat up during Southern Utah’s last outing in San Diego. The team put together 20 RBI and a .279 batting average over the four-game stretch while also grabbing a pair of home runs and three doubles. The T-Birds took two big wins, downing Iona, 9-3 and Miami (OH), 10-2 but also dropped a 5-1 setback against Fairfield and a 1-0 decision to UT Arlington. Freshman Kelli Hales hit .412 on the week and Madison Resley came up with her first home run of the season with a grand slam in the victory over the Redhawks. Senior Danielle Axe was a perfect 1-0 in the circle with a 3.00 ERA and five strikeouts.

Portland State was selected as the conference favorite in the inaugural Big Sky preseason poll, receiving five of the seven total first place votes. The Vikings are coming off their fourth appearance at the NCAA Tournament after capturing back-to-back Pacific Coast Softball Conference championships over the last two years. PSU is off to a record of 8-20 to start the 2013 season, but holds notable wins over  Kentucky, Boise State and BYU. Junior Crysta Conn leads the team with a .304 average, followed closely by infielder Brittany Hendrickson at .303, who also has 16 RBI and three home runs on the year. Anna Bertrand is currently 4-12 in the circle with a 3.71 ERA and has struck out 73 batters over 94.1 innings. Head coach Tobin Echo-Hawk is in her fifth season in Portland where she has compiled a career record of 121-96 as well as four PCSC titles and three NCAA tournament appearances.

Southern Utah softball standout Mikkel Griffin has been announced as one of 30 candidates for the Senior CLASS Award. An acronym for Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School®, the award recognizes student-athletes who excel both on and off the field. To be eligible, student-athletes must be classified as an NCAA Division I senior and have notable achievements in four areas of excellence – community, classroom, character and competition. Griffin has been an exemplary student at SUU, maintaining a 3.82 GPA and being named to the Dean’s List multiple times. She also spends several hours each week volunteering in the local community.

The Thunderbirds are set to begin competiton in a new conference this spring as the Big Sky adds softball as an official sport. The league will consist of teams from BSC member schools Idaho State, North Dakota, Northern Colorado, Portland State, Sacramento State, Southern Utah and Weber State.

Southern Utah ranked third in the preseason coaches’ poll released by the Big Sky Conference, picking up one first-place vote. Portland State earned the top spot after being voted number one by five coaches and Sacramento State came in second while also receiving a first-place nomination. Northern Colorado was selected fourth, followed by Weber State in fifth and North Dakota and Idaho State who rounded out the bottom of the poll.

       2013 Big Sky Conference Preseason Coaches’ Poll
    1.   Portland State             34 (5)
    2.   Sacramento State        31 (1)
    3.   Southern Utah             23 (1)
    4.   Northern Colorado        20
    5.   Weber State                16
    6.   North Dakota              15
    7.   Idaho State                 8

The Thunderbird middle infielders have made opponents pay for hitting ground balls this season, turning 16 double plays through the first 24 games. Southern Utah’s average of 0.67 double plays per game currently ranks fourth in the nation. Kadi Henderson leads the team with 65 assists from third base while Kelli Hales has made 60 more at short.

The Southern Utah lineup has accounted for 133 total hits this season, 12 of which were home runs. That equates to one dinger for every 11 hits. Mikkel Griffin leads the team with four round-trippers while Kadi Henderson and Kelsey Bryant each have three. Of the Thunderbirds 65 RBI this year, 20 have come via the long ball.

Southern Utah will open the season playing its first 26 contests on the road. The Thunderbirds home opener won’t come until March 26 when they host Boise State. Overall 38 of the team’s 51 games this year will be played away from Cedar City.

SUU senior outfielder Mikkel Griffin was named an Easton NCAA Division I Second-team All-American following a strong junior season for the Thunderbirds. The honor came in addition to her Summit League Player of the Year recognition received earlier in the year. Griffin was tops for the Thunderbirds at the plate, leading the team with a .404 average, 65 hits, 12 home runs, 115 total bases, 10 stolen bases and a .714 slugging percentage. Her home run total also led the Summit League in addition to her total base and slugging percentage marks.

The Southern Utah University softball team added another impressive recruiting class receiving commitments from local standouts Ashley Clayson from Copper Hills High School and reigning Ms. Softball for the state of Utah Jordan Theurer of Bear River. Clayson garnered honorable mention recognition on the Deseret News 5A all-state team after leading the Grizzlies to a Region III title and the school’s first appearance in the state championship game while posting a .441 batting average. Theurer will come ina as one of the most decorated athletes in SUU softball history. The Tremonton, Utah native led the Bears to two consecutive state titles and was selected as the tournament MVP following each appearance. She has also received back-to-back 3A MVP awards from the Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News. Last season Theurer racked up a .442 batting average with four home runs and 48 RBI to go along with a 2.09 ERA, 151 strikeouts in 157.1 innings pitched and an overall record of 22-4 in the circle. She also tossed 12 shutouts and a no-hitter during her junior campaign. Those numbers led to her being named Ms. Softball by the Deseret News and the 2012 Utah Gatorade Player of the Year by ESPN.

Last year Southern Utah headed into league play with a record of 10-8 on a combined batting average of .309 along with a 3.40 team ERA. This season the T-Birds are hitting .215 at the plate and throwing for an overall ERA of 5.76. SUU has matched its home run total at this point with 12, but trails in total RBI after only collecting 65 scores to the previous mark of 82. The team has made a marked improvement on defense with a .960 fielding percentage, which is up from .939 a year ago.

Southern Utah freshman Kylee Wolf joins the T-Birds after a historic career at Spanish Fork High School. The new SUU outfielder holds Utah high school records for single-game RBI with 11 and single season RBI with 63. Her .454 high school career batting average is among the top ten in Utah history and her mark of 62 hits in a season ranks second all-time to her teammate Kelli Hales who had 63 hits at SFHS. Wolf also ranks third in the record book with 151 career hits, 24 career home runs and 127 career RBI.  

The T-Birds took on a pair of top 25 teams in their first ten games. SUU started the year with a 18-3 loss to No. 5 Tennessee at the Red Desert Classic in St. George, Utah, while also dropping a 6-3 decision to No. 16 Arizona at the Hillenbrand Invitational in Tucson.

The Thunderbirds set several individual and team records in 2012, largely behind Mikkel Griffin who inserted her name among the leaders of six single-season statistical categories. Her .404 batting average for the year ranks third all-time at SUU and her 12 home runs ranks fourth. Griffin also finished in the top six with 65 hits, 43 runs, 115 total bases and a .714 slugging percentage. The team’s .303 batting average was its third highest mark ever, as was its 258 RBI. It also posted top-five totals with 83 doubles, 426 hits, 47 home runs, 272 runs scored and a .473 slugging percentage.