Sophomore Kayce Nieto and the Utes open their 2014 campaign this weekend.
Feb. 6, 2014
With the first pitch of the 2014 Utah softball campaign a day away, utahutes.com will prepare fans for the Utes' third Pac-12 Conference season with a breakdown of the roster.
This is the third in a three-part series about the student-athletes Utah has at each position heading into the season.
Utah will have four arms at its disposal on its pitching staff in 2014 as sophomore Kayce Nieto, returns after earning Pac-12 Honorable Mention as well as a spot on the Pac-12 All-Freshman team in 2013.
"Kayce is pitching without pain for the first time in a long time," Utah Head Coach Amy Hogue said. "She had hip surgery in May. She looks great and feels great. I can't wait to see what this kid can do with a body that doesn't fight her. She isn't a freshman anymore so she'll have a sense of what to expect this go around."
Junior Mariah Ramirez finished 10th in the Pac-12 with 152.2 innings pitched in 2013 and had an impact at the plate as well. Ramirez went 6-for-10 at the plate to help Utah to series victory over No. 2 Arizona State (4/19-4/21/13).
"She is swinging the bat well right now," Hogue said. "She's matured as a hitter over her last two years. She's more selective and if that continues into the season, her offensive game will completely change. It's exciting to consider not just as a pitcher, but to play multiple roles for us this year. She's even played several innings at first base."
Sammy Cordova enjoyed an impressive prep career at Edison High School in Huntington Beach, Calif., as she was named Orange County Player of the Year in 2012, Pitcher of the Year in the Sunset League last season and to the MaxPreps All-American team and ESPNHS All-State First Team as well as a MaxPreps NFCA Player of the Week.
"Sammy is a freshman who has a lot of movement and mixes speeds well. She's done nothing but improve since she's been on campus. We will continue to help her gain confidence by giving her some comfortable innings early when we have a lead. She'll play a role as a closer for a while until we see what she can do. Hopefully, she'll earn some starts quickly."
Junior Kendal Bergman will provide a fourth pitching option for the Utes in 2014.
"Berg picked up a ball and threw it underhand for the first time at the end of last year," Hogue said. "She's been throwing to hitters and getting ready to back up the other three pitchers. She will also continue to have pinch hit and DP opportunities."
Sophomore Shelby Pacheco comes back behind the plate for the Utes after an impressive debut campaign in 2013. She started 49 games and was a Pac-12 All-Freshman Honorable Mention last year after tying for sixth in the Pac-12 in triples and sacrifice flies during league games.
"Pacheco had a great freshman season," Hogue said. "Just having her back there keeps the double play in order. We don't face a lot of teams who are willing to even attempt to steal off her. This fall, Pacheco was our best hitter from start to finish. I believe she thinks of herself as a solid defensive player, but her bat was so hot this preseason that I think she may start to consider her a real offensive threat."
Junior Shelbi Everett will bring a wealth of versatility to the Utes.
"Everett can do a little bit of everything," Hogue said. "She is ready to step in as a catcher or as an outfielder right out of the gates. She has been fun to coach because she just reminds you that it's a game and it should be fun and you should play loose. We even put her at first a few times, and the game just seems pretty easy for her."
Freshman Bella Secaira helped Marina High School win a Sunset League title and was the 2011 Daily Pilot Player of the Year after hitting .450 with 28 RBI. She earned first-team All-Sunset League status in both 2010 and 2011.
"Bella is like another coach on the field," Hogue said. "She knows this game really well, so there really wasn't much of a learning curve for her when she got here. She's been great for our pitchers because she coaches them pitch to pitch in the workouts. That's something you rarely see in a freshman."