Bears Set to Open 2009 Campaign this Weekend at Centenary Tournament
Missouri State Bears (0-0)
Missouri State will kick off its 41st season of varsity softball Friday (Feb. 6) evening at 5:30 p.m. against Boston College in Shreveport, La. The Bears will be taking part in the five-team Centenary Tournament this weekend, with two games scheduled on Friday and Saturday, followed by a single contest on Sunday.
The Bears return six seniors, including All-MVC performers Brooke Kempker and Jessie Smith, and all but two regulars from last year’s 28-22 club that fell just one win short of capturing the school’s sixth MVC Tournament title.
The five-team, round-robin event kicks off Friday (Feb. 6) morning from Centenary Softball Complex in Shreveport, La. The Bears will play back-to-back games on Friday, beginning with a 5:30 p.m. match-up with Boston College, followed by a 7:30 contest against Nicholls State. Day two of the tourney begins for the Bears with a 3:30 p.m. game against host Centenary and concludes with another 7:30 bout, this time agaisnt Bryant. The meet’s final day includes an 11:30 a.m. game against SIU-Edwardsville.
No live stats will be available for the tournament, but audio of select games will be broadcast live on www.gocentenary.com.
Missouri State is 18-17 in season openers dating back to the 1975 season
The Bears have won each of their season-opening tournaments the last two years, claiming the Florida Atlantic tourney with a 4-1 record last year and the Central Arkansas meet in 2007 after outscoring their five opponents by a 48-9 margin
MSU enters the tournament with a cumulative 6-4 all-time record against the five teams in the field
Senior shortstop Jessie Smith enters the 2009 season as the Bears’ career leader for slugging percentage (.524) and tied atop MSU’s all-time home run list with 20 round-trippers; she is also already on the Bears’ top five chart for runs scored (96)
Senior catcher Jen Carr enters her final year in a Bears’ uniform with the No. 2 fielding pecentage (.997) in Missouri State history Missouri State was picked to finish sixth in a preseason poll of the 10 Missouri Valley Conference coaches after placing seventh in the league a year ago
Missouri State a combined 6-4 record against the Centenary Tournament field, and will be facing two first-time opponents in Boston College and Bryant. MSU has taken four of its six meetings against Nicholls State, but has dropped both of its previous games to Centenary. The Bears are a perfect 2-0 against SIU-Edwardsville.
Head Coach Holly Hesse
Missouri State head coach Holly Hesse (Creighton, ’82) is 529-500-2 (.514) in her 20th season at Missouri State. Last season, the Bears finished 28-22 and 11-13 in the MVC to place seventh, but MSU recorded three wins in two days at the MVC Tournament to reach the title game.
Hesse led the Bears to a school-record 40 wins and a berth in the NCAA Tournament in 2006. Hesse’s teams have made four trips to the NCAA Tournament (1996, 1997, 1998, 2006) and have won four Missouri Valley Conference tournament championships. She also led the Bears to the Gateway Conference regular season championship in 1992 and the MVC regular season title in 1994. The Bears’ second-place MVC finish marked the 12th time during her tenure the Bears have finished in the top-five of the conference standings. It was also the sixth time the Bears have won 30 games in a season, with an average of nearly 27 wins per season since her arrival in 1989.
Hesse won her 500th career game at Missouri State in a 1-0 triumph over Indiana State on April 22, 2007. She joined Illinois State’s Melinda Fischer and Creighton’s Brent Vigness as the only active MVC coaches with 500 career wins.
Home Sweet Home
With the 2009 season will come the debut of the Bears’ brand new, 1,200-seat home park, Killian Softball Stadium. Financed and constructed as part of the Springfield-Greene County Park Board’s $2.7 million renovation of the Roger G. Killian Sports Complex, MSU’s new home will give the Bears a state-of-the-art facility and open up the possibility of hosting future NCAA regional competitions. MSU will host the All-Missouri Breast Cancer Awareness Tournament, March 6-8, to open the home portion of the schedule. Dedication ceremonies will be held on the second day of the tournament prior to the Bears’ match-up with UMKC.
In the Record Books
Several Bears etched their names into the Missouri State softball record books in 2008. Jessie Smith ascended to the top of the school’s all-time home run list, equaling Ashley Meredith’s 20 career dingers, with her three-run shot in the seventh inning of MSU’s 5-0 win over SIU in the quarterfinal round of the MVC Tournament. The Blue Springs, Mo., native enters her final season in a Missouri State uniform as the program’s career leader in slugging percentage (.524). She is also on pace to finish among the Bears’ all-time leaders in hits, at-bats, doubles, runs batted-in and total bases.
Melissa Porche’s 44 appearances was second all-time in a single season at MSU, while her 288 strikeouts eclipsed the Bears’ single-season record, passing Nora Cagwin’s previous MSU high of 270 (set in 1999) in the Bears’ quarterfinal win over SIU at the MVC Tournament. She also passed Cagwin for the most career appearances by a Bears’ pitcher (152) with her complete-game win over Evansville in the tourney opener.
Additionally, the Bears set a Missouri Valley Conference record for team fielding percentage, finishing with a .981 averge, good for second in all of Division I.
Lucky Number 3
Last season the Bears were 24-3 when scoring at least three runs in a game. However, Missouri State was just 4-19 when failing to tally three runs. MSU started the 2008 season 19-1 in such contests and is now 43-6 in games where it scores three or more runs over the last two seasons.
Kempker Tabbed Preseason All-MVC
Junior outfielder Brooke Kempker was the Bears’ leading hitter during the conference season in 2008, posting a .327 average at the plate and a team-high .403 on-base percentage in MSU’s 24 MVC contests. One of only four Bears to start every conference game, Kempker’s strong showing came on the heels of a non-conference season that saw her hit just .220 with just nine hits and three runs scored in 22 games.
For her efforts, the Jefferson City, Mo., native was a second-team all-conference pick last spring, and was the Bears’ lone preseason all-league pick this year.
Watch the Leather, Man
Missouri State ended the 2008 season ranked second nationally and first in The Valley with a .981 team fielding percentage. Texas A&M led the nation in fielding with a .984 percentage. MSU’s mark was the sixth-best fielding percentage in NCAA Division I history. Among the Bears’ regulars, Christa Gammon and Elysha Swider posted perfect fielding percentages in 2008.
The Bears have finished among the nation’s top 30 teams in fielding percentage each of the last three seasons after posting a .969 mark in 2007 to finish 29th and a .975 percentage in 2006 to rate 12th in the land.
Fab Frosh Now Super Sophs
Missouri State will be looking for even bigger things from a talented sophomore class that made an immediate impact for the Bears in 2008. Ashley Knehans clubbed three home runs and finished fourth on the team with 14 runs batted in. Her RBI single was the game-winner in the Bears’ 3-2 victory over No. 11 Oklahoma (3/19). Leadoff hitter Christa Gammon led the team in steals with eight in 11 attempts, while Jenna Schwark was MSU’s fourth-leading hitter with a .259 batting average and a team-high nine sacrifice hits. Tyler Porter made 40 starts in the Bears’ outfield and scored 17 runs, good for fourth on the club.
Off to the Races
Missouri State stole an MVC 2008 season-high eight bases in the Bears’ 13-7 win over Saint Louis (3/2/08). MSU was 39-of-55 in stolen base attempts with Christa Gammon leading the Bears with eight steals in 11 attempts. Jessie Smith, who led the league with 17 stolen bases in 2007, was 7-of-9 last year.
Bears Ink Six
The Bears received six commitments for the 2009-10 academic year during the November National Letter of Intent signing period. Holly Hesse and her staff announced the additions of Caitlin Chapin (Ozark, Mo.), Stevie Pierce (Plano, Texas), Alaina Burkhart (Neosho, Mo.), Lauren Eisenreich (Blue Springs, Mo.), Madison Hargrove (Shawnee, Kan.) and Kirstin Cutter (Oklahoma City, Okla.
Burkhart (OF) hit .392 in her first year at Crowder College en route to earning second-team NJCAA all-region honors. The Neosho, Mo., native hit leadoff for former Bear softball standout and current Crowder coach Lori (Dilbeck) Videmschek, and will add speed to the MSU outfield and a versatile bat to the Bears’ lineup. A three-time all-district and all-Southwest Conference honoree at Neosho High, Burkhart helped the Wildcats to three district titles as a prep standout.
Chapin (IF) completed her career at Ozark (Mo.) High School as one of the area’s most decorated players. A four-time All-Ozarks selection, Chapin set OHS career records for home runs, runs batted in, runs scored and hits, leading the Lady Tigers to three district titles. In 2007 she clubbed 11 home runs, which tied for the fourth-highest single-season total in Missouri high school softball history, en route to leading Ozark to a fourth-place Class 4 finish.
Cutter (SS) was an all-state selection at Oklahoma City’s Western Heights High School this past fall. Primarily a strong-armed shortstop, Cutter is a left-handed slap-hitter who is quick on the base baths. A four-time all-conference honoree, Cutter has also competed in basketball, cross country and soccer at Western Heights.
Eisenreich (OF) earned all-district honors in helping Blue Springs High School to the Missouri Class 4 title with a perfect 32-0 team record this fall. The daughter of former major league outfielder Jim Eisenreich, she was a part of three district championship squads at Blue Springs, picking up all-region honors each of her last two seasons as a prep. A defensive specialist in centerfield, Eisenreich possesses a strong arm and an uncanny ability to track the ball.
Hargrove (C/SS) enters her final prep season this spring at Mill Valley (Shawnee, Kan.) High School as a three-year starter and two-time all-conference selection as a catcher for the Jaguars. Hargrove’s strong arm and athleticism could provide her the unique opportunity to see playing time both behind the plate and at shortstop for the Bears.
Pierce (1B/OF) is another prep standout with the ability to provide added punch to Bears’ lineup. The Plano (Texas) High School product hit .485 with four homers as a junior and has earned three all-district nods. Pierce brings the versatility to play first base and the outfield. She played summer ball for the Texas Glory Gold, a team that featured 13 players committed to play at Division I institutions.
One and Done
Missouri State didn’t experience much luck in one-run games in 2007, as the Bears were 4-9 in such contests. MSU faired slightly better last year, claiming victory in 11 of its 21 one-run affairs to bring their two-year mark to 15-19 in those games.
Missouri State was 20-4 when scoring the first run of the game, and 10-1 when scoring a run in the first inning in 2008. The Bears were 20-5 last season when scoring the first run of the game, and 15-3 when tallying a run in the first inning.
MVP for McGinley
Junior pitcher Lauren McGinley is hoping to get off to the kind of start in 2009 that earned her MVP honors in the Bears’ 2008 season-opening appearance at the Florida Atlantic "Strike Out" Cancer Tournament. McGinley earned three wins in 11.2 inings of work, posting a 0.77 ERA to lead the Bears’ charge to the tourney title.
Former Players as Coaches
Sixteen of coach Holly Hesse’s former players have gone on to become coaches. Those currently coaching at the collegiate level are Annie Medico (head coach-Drury), Tina Kramos (assistant-Illinois State), Dee Keim (assistant-Central Missouri) and Whitney Peyton (graduate assistant-Central Missouri).
MVC Preseason Poll
The Missouri State softball team was picked to finish sixth in the 2009 Missouri Valley Conference coaches’ preseason poll. Two-time defending regular-season champion Creighton was the overwhelming favorite among coaches, gathering nine first-place votes and 97 points total. Illinois State garnered 85 total points to place second, followed by Southern Illinois (78) and reigning MVC Tournament champ Drake (60), which received one first-place vote.The Bears received 45 points, which was 13 points shy of Wichita State in the fifth spot. Evansville (42), Indiana State (33), Bradley (25) and UNI (24) round out the bottom half of the poll.