Softball Bears To Open Season at Florida Atlantic Tournament



The Missouri State softball team opens the 2008 season with five games in the Florida Atlantic "Strike Out" Cancer Tournament this weekend. The Bears return four seniors and all but one regular from last year’s 21-29 club.

The Bears will face Long Island University in their season opener Friday (Feb. 15), at 8 a.m.. Miami (Ohio) will be MSU’s second opponent of the day at 10 a.m. The Bears will face Kent State (3 p.m.) and host Florida Atlantic (7 p.m.) Saturday.

The opponents Long Island University returns eight starters and 13 letterwinners from last season’s Northeast Conference champion team that finished 34-22 overall. Two-time NEC Pitcher of the Year Jenny Giles and All-NEC teammates Celina Castillo and Vanessa Mejia pace the Blackbirds. Miami (Ohio) returns the bulk of its 2007 lineup which finished 26-35-1 overall. Kent State returns six starters from last year’s 31-19 overall and Mid-American (East Division) championship team. Seniors Jamie Fitzpatrick (.369), Jessica Toocheck (.343), Corey Houk (.340) and Kim Hamilton (.311) are expected to lead the Golden Flashes offensively, as each batted over.300 last season. Defending Sun Belt champion and tournament host Florida Atlantic returns 17 letterwinners and two of its top three pitchers from last year’s 42-23 squad.

Series records Friday’s matchup with Long Island will be the first for the Bears. Missouri State leads the series with Miami 4-1, and Kent State 2-0. Florida Atlantic is 2-0 against the Bears.

Coach Holly Hesse Missouri State head coach Holly Hesse (Creighton, ’82) is 501-479-2 (.511) in her 20th season at Missouri State. Last season, the Bears finished 21-29 overall. 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. Last year’s second place MVC finish marked the 12th time during her tenure the Bears have finished in the top-five of the conference standings. Last season 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 only Illinois State’s Melinda Fischer in the MVC and an elite group of 41 active head coaches with 500 Division I wins. The Missouri State Bears are playing in their 40th season and have an all-time record of 880-715-2 (.552).

Last Year The 2007 Missouri State softball team was plagued by injuries and inconsistency as the Bears finished with a 21-29 record, the program's fewest wins since 2001. Newcomers accounted for 204 starts, including 136 by the team's four freshmen, as inexperience played a factor in the team's struggles. The Bears started the season with a five-game winning streak but ended the campaign with six straight losses, and had four losing streaks of more than four games during the season. The team's competition was stiff, as the Bears played 10 games against teams that made the 2007 NCAA Tournament.

  The Bears struggled offensively, finishing ninth of 10 teams in the Missouri Valley Conference in batting average (.236) and hits (292). Defensively, Missouri State was very solid, finishing third in the MVC and 29th nationally with a .969 fielding percentage. On the mound, MSU relied very heavily on junior Melissa Porche, who pitched in 41 of the 49 games and accounted for 71 percent of the team's innings pitched.

  Despite the disappointing record, the 2007 Bears featured numerous outstanding performances and accomplishments. Head coach Holly Hesse picked up her 500th career Division I coaching victory in a 1-0 triumph over Indiana State on April 22. Hesse joins only Illinois State's Melinda Fischer in the MVC and an elite group of 41 active head coaches with 500 Division I wins.

  The team's record could have been much different had it not been for many close losses. The Bears were 4-9 in one-run games and 1-5 in extra inning games. Three was the magical number for the 2007 Bears, as the team was an impressive 19-3 when scoring three or more runs but was 2-26 when failing to tally three runs. Missouri State was also 17-4 when leading after the third inning, but 1-20 when trailing after the third frame.

500 Club Missouri State head coach Holly Hesse picked up her 500th victory at Missouri State with a 1-0 win over Indiana State (4-22-07). Hesse became the third coach to join the 500-win club in the Valley, joining Illinois State’s Melinda Fischer and Creighton’s Brent Vigness. Only 47 active Division I coaches began the 2007 season with more than 500 wins. Hesse picked up her 400th win against Indiana State on March 20, 2004, with a 9-1 victory over the Sycamores in Springfield.

Bears among MVC Leaders Several Bears finished among the top 10 in Missouri Valley Conference statistical categories last season. Pitcher Melissa Porche was second in the league in innings pitched (232.0) and games started (35). She finished fourth in strikeouts (222), tied for third in appearances (41), and seventh in earned-run average (2.17).

  Jessie Smith led the league with 17 stolen bases and Brooke Kempker topped the hit by pitch category, with 10. Jen Carr’s perfect fielding percentage tied atop the category, as she was one of only five players to be errorless with over 100 fielding chances.

Powerful Porche Missouri State senior pitcher Melissa Porche is expected to be a force on the mound for the Bears. Porche was second in the league in innings pitched (232.0) and games started (35). She finished fourth in strikeouts (222), tied for third in appearances (41), and seventh in earned-run average (2.17).

Porche suffered from a lack of run support during her effots on the mound. In 16 of her 19 losses last season, MSU was shut out or scored only one run.

  A year ago the Buena Park, Calif., native pitched a no-hitter in the championship game of the Central Arkansas Lead-Off Tournament against host UCA, as the Bears captured the tournament title with a 6-0 victory. The righthander struck out 11 in the game and 33 during the tournament as she went 3-0 and was voted to the all-tournament team. She also threw a complete game one-hitter against Central Arkansas (2/10) in the teams’ first meeting.

 In a 6-0 win over UMKC (3/7), the hurler picked up her fourth complete game shutout of the season, allowing only three hits. Porche suffered two tough-luck losses against Creighton in the opening weekend of MVC play (3/7-3/8), dropping games of 1-0 and 2-0 to the Bluejays after pitching nine-inning complete games in each contest. In both contests, the Bluejays scored in the ninth inning and the Bears could not provide Porche any run support. During the weekend, Porche passed the 100-strikeout mark for the third consecutive season.

 Porche tied a season high with 13 strikeouts in game two of a doubleheader against Kansas (3/28), but again suffered the loss after the Bears were shut out. Porche was 2-1 as the Bears won an MVC series with Evansville (3/31 & 4/1), and during the weekend set a new career high in strikeouts, passing her total of 141 from last season.

 Her 11-inning complete game shutout against Wichita State (4/4) was her longest outing of the season as she evened her record at 12-12. Porche had a 20-inning scoreless streak broke in a loss to UNI (4/6) and picked up her first save of the season against the Panthers the following day (4/7) in a 10-8 Bears’ victory.

Porche led the country with seven saves as a sophomore. She pitched 16 complete games as a starter, going 17-8 with a 2.17 ERA, also.

Bean Ball Brooke Kempker led the Valley in a category she’d rather not-- hit by pitch. The junior outfielder from Jefferson City, Mo., was hit 10 times last season in 127 plate appearances. She had been hit in seven of her first 34 appearances, which was equal to once every five times she stepped to the plate. Kempker, started 39 games and played in 43, and ranked second on the team with a .376 on-base percentage.

One-run Setbacks Missouri State didn’t experience much luck in one-run games last season, as the Bears were 4-9 in games decided by one run. MSU has lost decisions of 2-1 to Centenary (2/18), 3-2 to Eastern Illinois (2/25), 6-5 to Tulsa (2/25), 1-0 to Oklahoma State (2/28), 3-2 to Saint Louis (3/4), 1-0 to Creighton (3/17), 1-0 to Bradley (3/25), 1-0 to Illinois State (5/6) and 2-1 to Bradley (5/10).

No Run Support In 16 of pitcher Melissa Porche’s 19 losses last season, MSU was shut out or scored only one run.

Early Offense 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. On the contrast, MSU was 1-24 when their opponent scored first, including an 1-10 mark when the opposition scores in the first inning. Missouri State won their only game when an opponent scored first when the Bears rallied from a two-run Northern Iowa opening frame to take a 10-8 victory on April 7.

Hit or Miss The recipe for a Missouri State victory in 2007 was simple: outhit the opponent. When the Bears outhit the opposition, they were 15-2. However, when opponents surpass MSU’s hit total in a game, the Bears were 3-24. MSU was 3-3 last season when hits are even.

IN the Record Books Several current players have etched their names into the Missouri State softball record books. As a freshman in 2006, Jessie Smith scored 40 runs and hit eight home runs to rank third for a single season in each category. Her 87 total bases were also sixth-most all-time. Michelle Armentrout recorded 138 assists from third base in 2006 to rank fifth in a single season. Her 31 RBIs are also 10th-most all-time. Smith and pitcher Melissa Porche both recorded perfect fielding percentages last season to tie atop the category. Porche also recorded a perfect fielding percentage in 2005, as did catcher Lacie Ballard.

Former Players as Coaches Fourteen 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), Sara Cole (assistant- Evansville), and Deanna Keim (graduate assistant- Central Missouri). Also included are Katie Martin (student assistant) and Courtney Owens (student assistant) currently at Missouri State; both were members of last years’ 40-win team.

MVC Preseason Poll The Missouri State softball team was picked to finish fifth in the 2008 Missouri Valley Conference coaches’ preseason poll. Regular season and MVC tournament champion Creighton was the overwhelming favorite among coaches, gathering nine first-place votes and 97 points total. Wichita State received the other first-place vote and garnered 85 total points. Southern Illinois (81) and Illinois State (72) were selected third and fourth respectively.The Bears received 52 points, followed by Bradley (46), Evansville (44), Indiana State (35), Drake (25) and Northern Iowa (13).



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