Hesse Goes for Win 600 as Softball Opens Season Friday
 
Holly Hesse is one win shy of 600 as Missouri State head coach.
 
Holly Hesse is one win shy of 600 as Missouri State head coach.
 

Feb. 16, 2012

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The Missouri State softball team picked up steam at the end of the 2011 regular season and rolled through the MVC Tournament en route to the sixth NCAA Tournament appearance in school history. The Bears hope the momentum and experience gained will carry over into and lead to a successful 2012 season.

"We have a lot of experienced talent returning," asserts head coach Holly Hesse. "They are one of the hardest working teams we have had in a while. There is tremendous team chemistry. When you mix all those things together - experience, chemistry, talent, work ethic - there is potential for a really great year."

Hesse's squad is riding a seven-game home winning streak into this season after sweeping a three-game set against Evansville to end the regular season and taking all four games of the MVC Tournament held at Killian Softball Stadium last spring. Led by the right arm of reigning MVC Tournament MVP and 2012 All-MVC preseason pick Natalie Rose, the Bears look to remain near the top of the league standings. Arguably one of the best hurlers in the league, Rose's success will determine how far this year's Bears team can go.

The Bears return experienced players at nearly every position. With a solid left side of the field led by returning all-conference selection Kirstin Cutter at shortstop, Hesse feels confident in the 2012 team's ability to remain in the hunt for a Valley title.

Quick Hits
- Missouri State is 20-18 in season openers dating back to the 1975 season.
- The Bears are opening the season in the Lone Star State for the second-straight season.
- Junior Kirstin Cutter started all 55 games at shortstop for the Bears, the only player to start every game in 2011. She earned All-MVC first team accolades and led all Bears with a .298 batting average, 161 at-bats, 48 hits, 15 stolen bases and 11 multi-hit games.
- Senior hurler Natalie Rose set single season MSU records in 2011 with 39 starts, 49 appearances and 265.1 innings tossed. She capped off a 4-0 MVC Tournament with MVP and All-Tournament team honors and was named to the All-MVC first team.

FOLLOWING THE BEARS
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Live Stats: Provided by MeanGreenSports.com for select games. Bears live stats will be available for the North Texas game (Feb 17, 5:30) and Sam Houston State finale (Feb. 19, 2:00).

IN THE OTHER DUGOUT
Sam Houston State Bearkats: The Bears will bookend the weekend against the Bearkats, who opened the season last week at the Houston Cougar Classic by dropping all four games they played. SHSU holds a slim 4-3 series lead by virtue of a 9-2 win over the Bears at the North Texas Sleep Inn Classic in 2010.

North Texas Mean Green: MSU is no stranger to the Mean Green, whose only win this season was against Sam Houston State. The Bears swept a doubleheader in Denton, Texas, on March 9, 2011, by scores of 1-0 and 8-5. Missouri State returns to Denton for the fourth-straight season having played in early-season tournaments hosted by UNT in 2009 and 2010.

South Dakota State Jackrabbits: The Bears and Jackrabbits last squared off more than 15 years ago and SDSU were rude guests. The Jacks swept a doubleheader on MSU's home opener by scores of 6-5 and 9-3. SDSU has not played this season entering the weekend. Northern Illinois Huskies: Missouri State last faced NIU in 1998 at the Arkansas Invitational and defeated the Huskies, 2-1, on a seventh inning game-winning RBI by Diedre Shores. The Huskies are off to a 3-2 start after wins over Southern, Nicholls State and UT Martin at the Lion Classic in Hammond, La., last weekend.

MARKER #600 AHEAD
Head Coach Holly Hesse enters her 24th season at the helm of the softball Bears needing just one victory to reach the 600-win plateau. With an overall record of 599-583-2, Hesse entered the season tied for 40th on the all-time victories list among active coaches.

ROAD CREW
The Bears will begin the season as road warriors with three-straight tournaments and the first 19 games being played away from Killian Stadium. Following this weekend's tournament in Denton, the Bears head to Memphis, Tenn., for five games in three days at the Blues City Classic.

FEISTY FOES
All told, the Bears will face Big 12, SEC or 2011 NCAA Tournament teams a dozen times in 2012 (Memphis, 1; Missouri, 1; Iowa State, 3; Illinois State, 3; Kansas, 2; Tulsa, 1; Arkansas, 1). Eight of those matchups will be the first eight games at Killian Stadium.

MVC Preseason Poll
The Bears were picked to finish fourth in the 2012 Missouri Valley Conference coaches' preseason poll. Defending regular season champion Illinois State is favored with UNI and Southern Illinois sandwiched between ISU and the Bears.

After sweeping through the MVC Tournament in 2011, the Bears will be tasked with repeating that feat in Carbondale, Ill., as SIU will host the 2012 Championship. Missouri State earned its sixth title last season, tied for the most by any school. Hesse has 45 of the Bears' 67 wins in the MVC Tournament, both totals are the best in the Valley.

Rose in Full Bloom
Right-hander Natalie Rose added another chapter to her breakthrough junior season May 7, 2011, tossing the 13th no-hitter in Missouri State history as part of a sparkling final weekend of the regular season in which she helped blank Evansville twice while giving up just one earned run on six hits over 17.0 innings to lead the Bears to a three-game sweep. Rose notched the first no-no by a Bears pitcher since 2007 to open MSU's key series with UE.

For the year, Rose ranked ninth nationally in saves (5), 12th in walks per seven innings (1.08) and 35th in strikeouts (258).

Back in the Hunt
The Bears fifth-place finish Valley standing in 2011 represented their second upper-division finish in as many years. In 28 seasons in the Gateway/MVC, Missouri State has finished fifth or better on 16 occasions-including 11 times in the last 16 seasons--and 14 times during head coach Holly Hesse's 23-year tenure.

Winning time
Missouri State has made a habit of saving some of its best performances for the Valley Tournament, having racked up more MVC Tournament victories (67) than any other league club. Illinois State (52) is a distant second in that category, and the Bears matched Creighton for the most tourney titles over the 28-year history of the event by claiming their sixth crown. Furthermore, head coach Holly Hesse moved past Illinois State's Melinda Fischer for the most tournament victories (45) with the Bears' title-game victory. Hesse's career total is higher than the number of total team wins in the championship for every Valley other club except Illinois State.

Six Flags over Springfield
Behind the pitching of Natalie Rose and some timely hitting, the Bears swept through the field at the 2011 State Farm MVC Championship, becoming just the second host school to win the league's postseason tournament in the 28-year history of the event. Rose became the fifth Bear to be named tournament MVP after posting shutouts against Bradley and UNI (May 12) on the opening day of the meet and accounting for all four MSU wins while posting a 1.50 ERA. Three other Bears garnered all-tournament recognition, including seniors Ashley Knehans, who batted .417 to lead the Bears, and Tyler Porter whose six hits and five runs scored were the top marks in the tournament. Freshman third-baseman Heather Duckworth also earned all-tourney recognition after coming up with several clutch hits while playing an error-free third base in the tournament.

While pitching was the name of the game early in the tournament, the Bears' offense came alive in MSU's semifinal win over Illinois State (May 13) and their championship game victory against Drake (May 14). In the title game, MSU got an early two-run homer from sophomore Stevie Pierce, then put the game away with a four-run sixth inning. Pierce registered a near-perfect day at the plate, going 2-for-2 with a pair of walks and four RBIs to key the Bears' sixth MVC Tournament championship with a 7-4 victory.

Postseason Party
With their first Valley title since 2006 in tow, the Bears returned to the NCAA Tournament for the sixth time as a Division I program, drawing the No. 3 seed in the Norman Regional (May 20-21). Matched in the opening round with the same Tulsa squad that had defeated the Bears just three weeks earlier in their first meeting of the season, Missouri State looked to continue its late-season turnaround on the big stage.

The Golden Hurricane grabbed a 5-0 advantage after two innings to seize what appeared to be a commanding lead. But the Bears chipped away, finally climbing all the way back to actually take a brief 7-6 lead on the strength of a five-run fifth inning. TU had an answer in its half of the fifth, striking for three runs to take the lead for good in an eventual 9-7 decision.

Faced with the prospect of elimination, the Bears responded against Iona to claim their first NCAA victory since 1998. MSU scored twice in its first at-bat, only to see the Gaels come back to tie it in the bottom of the sixth inning. But Kirstin Cutter's one-out, RBI-triple in the top of the seventh scored the go-ahead run, and Christa Gammon added a run-scoring hit to give pitcher Savannah Wiggins and the Bears all the margin they would need for the 4-2 victory.

But Tulsa wasted little time in dispatching the Bears in the rematch of the two clubs' tourney opener, scoring three runs three different times over the first four innings to cruise to an 11-0 victory that ended MSU's NCAA Tournament stay.

WAITING IN THE WINGS
Head coach Holly Hesse has commitments from four players to join the 2013 squad. Joining the Bears for the 2012-13 academic year are Braxton Coil (Edmond, Okla.), Mary Stephens (Sachse, Texas), Bethany Sullinger (Kansas City, Mo.) and Sarah "Jessie" Van Es (Russellville, Ark.).

Coil was a four-year starter behind the dish for head coach Rick Nordyke at Edmond North High. She batted .477 with a team record 62 RBI in her senior season en route to Conference Player of the Year and all-state accolades. A four-time all-city and all-conference selection, she advanced her team to the 6A regional championship for a third-straight season her senior campaign. As a junior, Coil hit .387 with 48 RBI. Her Oklahoma Force summer team advanced to its third-straight USA/ASA National Championship Tournament in 2011 after winning the ASA State Title each of her seasons on the team.

Stephens has started her first three years at Wylie High for head coach Heather Damron. Her junior season, she set her school's record with 19 home runs, while batting .570 and driving in 74 runs. She was named Offensive Player of the Year, 4A District MVP and first-team all-state in her third season at WHS. A DFW Player of the Week, she was among the leaders in doubles, triples, home runs and RBI in the 4A district. Stephens earned academic all-district honors her sophomore and junior years. She was named to the all-district second team as a sophomore after batting.375. As a freshman, she was named District 8-5A Newcomer of the Year after hitting .346 and adding 16 RBI.

Sullinger was the starting shortstop all four years for head coach Stuart Sullinger at Park Hill High. A first-team all-state, all-region, all-conference and all-district honoree as a senior, she set the school record for batting average, slugging percentage, RBI and triples. She also earned the school's silver slugger award for the second-straight season and was named MVP of the team. As a junior, Sullinger set the school record for home runs in leading her team to a second-place finish in districts. She was an all-region, all-conference and all-district first team selection in her junior year. In 2009, she was named to the first-team all-conference and all-district squads while guiding her squad to a second-place finish in districts. As a freshman, she was named all-district first team and all-conference second team while earning the school's golden glove award for the first time. Sullinger also plays basketball at Park Hill.

Van Es has been a standout pitcher for Pottsville High her first three seasons. As a junior, she hurled an 18 strikeout perfect game, two no-hitters and three one-hitters while averaging 13 strikeouts for the season. She was named to the all-state and all-conference teams in leading her team to the semifinals of the state tournament. She can also hit, earning the 2011 Outstanding Hitter Award and was named the top junior by the conference coaches. As a sophomore, she earned all-conference accolades after taking the most RBI's award for the second-straight season. She won the golden glove award after leading her team to the state semifinals. In 2009, she earned all-conference honors and took home the silver bat award. Van Es also plays basketball at Pottsville High.

Honor Roll
For the second straight year, two Bears earned First-Team All-MVC honors. Sophomore shortstop Kirstin Cutter set the table for the Missouri State attack throughout the season, ranking among the MVC's leaders in hitting (.298) and stolen bases (15). Junior ace Natalie Rose also picked up first-team recognition after leading the MVC in strikeouts (258) and saves (5). She became the first Bear in 12 years to top the 20-win mark, finishing 22-19 on the year with a 2.11 ERA. Additionally, Rose set MSU single-season records for innings pitched (265.1), games started (39) and appearances (49). Rose also earned her second straight MVC All-Tournament honor and became the fifth Bear to pick up MVP honors at the Championship after pitching every inning of the tourney for the Bears and going 4-0 with a 1.50 ERA over the four games.

 

 

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