Softball Bears Set to Open Home Slate, Busy Weekend Thursday
Missouri State Bears (2-3) vs. SIU Edwardsville Cougars (5-9)
Site: Killian Stadium (1,200)Location: Springfield, Mo.
Live Stats: MissouriStateBears.comLive Audioi/Video: NoneTelevision: NoneRadio: None
After a week off, the Missouri State Bears will take the field five times this week, beginning with Thursday's (March 3) home opener against the SIU Edwardsville Cougars at Killian Stadium. The Bears will then take part in the Saint Louis Breast Cancer Tournament, Friday through Sunday.
The Bears are coming off a strong opening weekend at the TWC Texas Invitational in Austin, Texas, that saw them go 2-1 against Colorado State and Wisconsin. MSU dropped a pair of games to nationally-ranked Texas, including a tough-luck, 5-0 decision in the title game after matching the host Longhorns pitch for pitch through a scoreless five-and-a-half innings.
This weekend, the Bears will square off against the state of Missouri’s other three Division I programs in the seventh installment of the traveling tournament that benefits breast cancer awareness. MSU will open tourney play Friday (March 4) with a pair of games, starting with a 3:30 p.m., contest against the Southeast Missouri State Redhawks at the Billiken Sports Complex. The Bears will then take on the host Saint Louis Billikens at 5:30 p.m., and Saturday’s action will pit the Bears against the UMKC Kangaroos at 3 p.m. MSU will close out the weekend Sunday with an 11 a.m. tilt vs. the 18th-ranked Missouri Tigers.
-Missouri State is 27-9 in home openers dating back to the 1975 season, including a 15-7 mark under head coach Holly Hesse
-The Bears are 2-0 vs. SIU Edwardsville at home; Thursday's meeting will be the first for the two teams in Springfield since the 1983 season
-The Bears were picked to finish fifth in a preseason poll of the 10 Missouri Valley Conference coaches after tying for fourth in the league's regular-season race a year ago; Missouri State finished the regular- season with its first +.500 MVC finish since 2006, when it went 18-4 to finish second in the Valley
-Sophomore shortstop Kirstin Cutter led the Bears on opening weekend with a .625 average (5-for-8) with a pair of stolen bases at the TWC Texas Invitational
-Freshman Ashley Brentz turned in a strong opening weekend, batting .500 (5-for-10) over three games in Austin
-The Bears have been out-scored 8-1 in the first inning through five games this year
Missouri State is 2-1 all-time vs. SIUE, but the Cougars claimed a 3-1 win in Edwardsville last March in the most-recent meeting in the series. The Bears have fared well against three of their four opponents in the tournament, winning a combined 68 of their previous 88 games vs. SEMO, UMKC and Saint Louis. MSU has not tasted the same kind of success against Missouri, which owns a 32-15 mark against the Bears. Sunday's match-up between the Bears and Tigers will be just the fifth for the two clubs in the last 16 seasons. Last year, the Tigers cruised to the tournament title on their home turf, besting MSU 8-0.
Scouting the Bears
Missouri State is off to a 2-3 start with wins over Colorado State and Wisconsin at the season-opening TWC Texas Invitational (Feb. 18-20). The Bears, who also dropped a pair of hard-fought decisions to nationally-ranked Texas, return 12 letterwinners and seven regular starters from last year's 21-32 squad that finished in a tie for fourth in the Valley's regular-season standings. MSU is led by a trio of returning All-MVC performers, including seniors Jenna Schwark and Christa Gammon, who batted .358 and .337, respectively, a year ago to rank among the conference's top six hitters. Sophomore Caitlin Chapin also enjoyed a banner year in her debut season for MSU in 2010, clubbing eight home runs to match a Missouri State freshman record. In the circle, junior right-hander Natalie Rose should carry the load once again after finishing 2010 with six consecutive complete games during the Bears' critical run through the MVC Tournament.
Scouting the Cougars
SIU Edwardsville enters Thursday's game 5-9 on the young season following a 27-24 campaign a year ago as a reclassifying Division I program. The Cougars welcome back 13 letterwinners for long-time head coach Sandy Montgomery, including senior infielder Kasey Schlafke, who represents one of the clubs' run-producers with a home run and six RBIs to her credit. Freshman Rachel Coonrod has been solid in her first collegiate season, hitting .306 with a home run and four RBIs thorugh the first 14 games. Junior Paige Sheeder leads the Cougars with two long balls. In the circle, SIUE relies on senior righty Erika Taylor, who enters the week with a 3-5 mark and a 2.66 ERA in eight starts.
Bears Under Holly Hesse
Missouri State head coach Holly Hesse (Creighton, '82) is 571-561-2 (.504) in her 23rd season at Missouri State. Last season, the Bears finished 21-32 and tied for fourth in the MVC regular-season race before reeling off three wins in two days at the MVC Tournament to reach the semifinal round.
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. Missouri State's 2006 campaign was the sixth time the Bears have won 30 games in a season, and they enter the 2011 season with an average of over 24 wins per season since her arrival in 1989. The Bears' fourth-place MVC in finish last year marked the 13th time during her tenure MSU has finished in the top-five of the conference standings. Hesse won her 500th career game at Missouri State in a 1-0 triumph over Indiana State on April 22, 2007.
At Home at 'The K'
At Home at 'The K'
Missouri State is 1-1 in home openers at Killian Softball Stadium after taking a 12-4 victory from IUPUI last March to christen the 2010 home slate. The Bears are just 12-23 over two seasons in their new home, however. MSU went 7-12 at Killian in 2010. Under Holly Hesse, the Bears are 15-7 in home openers.
With its 3-2 showing at last year's MVC Championship, Missouri State extended its league-best win total to 63, which is 11 victories ahead of the No. 2 team (Illinois State) on the list. The Bears' five titles are second only to Creighton's six over the 28-year history of the event.
On the Rise
The Bears fourth-place Valley finish in 2010 represented their best since 2006, when they finished second in the regular-season standings before claiming their fifth MVC Tournament title. In 27 seasons in the Gateway/MVC, Missouri State has finished fifth or better on 15 occasions-including 10 times in the last 15 seasons-and 13 times during head coach Holly Hesse's tenure.
Senior infielder Christa Gammon finished the conference season as the Valley's leader in hits with 34 safeties in MVC play en route to earning Second-Team All-MVC honors in 2010. Her .395 batting average over 25 league games ranked third in the circuit and marked a .151 point improvement from last year, when she hit just .244 in conference play. The Fairview Heights, Ill., product also tied for the league lead with two triples and rated fourth in runs scored (18) in Valley play last season.
The Bears clubbed five homers at last year's MVC Championship to match the Missouri State single-season team record of 34 round-trippers on the year. On an individual level, three Bears posted home run totals that rank among the top nine all-time at MSU. Caitlin Chapin and Ashley Knehans both hit a team-leading eight long balls, while Jenna Schwark ripped seven balls out of the yard.
Chugging Along With Chapin
One of the primary reasons for the Bears' success with the long ball was the emergence of freshman Caitlin Chapin, who shared the team lead with eight home runs. Her second-inning solo shot at UNI on May 9, moved her into a tie for the top spot on the Missouri State freshman home run list, equalling Jessie Smith's (2006) MSU freshman record of eight dingers.
Senior Jenna Schwark ranked as the Valley's toughest player to strike-out in 2010, fanning just three times in 25 MVC games and 10 times overall. Her average of just one strikeout every 15.9 at-bats ranked 52nd among all Division I players.
Pick a Number
Missouri State head coach Holly Hesse employed 38 unique lineups in the Bears' first 48 contests last season. The Bears utilized 19 different combinations over their first 20 games and until the final weekend of the regular season at UNI, had trotted out the same lineup in back-to-back games just five times in 2010. Against the Panthers, however, the Bears used the same lineup in three straight contests for the first time all season. No spot in the order was safe, as each of the nine slots featured no fewer than three different players in 2010.
The Bears will be looking for a quicker start than last year, when their 2-10 mark represented their worst start to a season through 12 games. Missouri State dropped its first seven games before topping SEMO (March 6) to end a 12-game losing streak that surpassed the previous school-record dry spell of 10 games, which occurred during the 1989 season. Last year marked the first time in three winless starts of five games or more under Holly Hesse that the Bears failed to rebound by posting a winning season. In 2000, the Bears started 0-8 before bouncing back to finish 30-28. MSU then came back from an 0-5 start in 2003 to go 29-25 overall.
Bears Ink Five for 2011
Missouri State received five commitments for the class of 2011 during the National Letter of Intent signing period in November, Joining the Bears for the 2011-12 academic year will be Amber Dreher (Gladstone, Mo.), Erin Duewel (Lee's Summit, Mo.), Chelsea Jones (El Reno, Okla.), Rebecca McPherson (Bates City, Mo.) and Alissa Trickey (Belleville, Ill.).
Dreher comes to Missouri State after completing her prep career at Oak Park High School in Kansas City this fall. Primarily a second baseman, Dreher earned second-team all-state honors this fall after hitting .448 for a squad that finished 20-8. She received all-district honors three times and was named All-Suburban Small Six Conference teams in each of her four varsity seasons. Dreher also competed in basketball for the Northmen.
Duewel played four years of varsity softball for Raymore-Peculiar High School, earning first-team all-district and team most valuable player honors as a senior this fall. A versatile athlete who can play a number of different positions, Deuwel was named to three all-conference squads during her career. She also competed for the Mac-N-Seitz Naturals club team.
A right-handed pitcher and outfielder, Jones guided her El Reno High School club to a regional title and fifth-place finish at the Oklahoma Class 5A state tournament this fall. She earned Oklahoma Softball Coaches Association All-Region I honors after compiling a 16-9 record with a 1.02 earned run average and 124 strikeouts against just 19 walks in 137 innings pitched. Jones also batted .364 and picked up all-conference recognition for the fourth straight year. Jones, who played summer ball for the Oklahoma Dynamites BadSide, also helped lead the Indians to a state runner-up finish as a freshman and a third-place finish her sophomore year.
McPherson was a four-time all-district and all-conference honoree at Oak Grove (Mo.) High School, leading the Panthers to their first district title in seven years this past fall. She enjoyed a banner senior year, hitting .479 to earn all-state recognition. Primarily a catcher for Oak Grove, McPherson has the versatility to play on the infield and in the outfield as well for the Bears. McPherson also competed in basketball for Oak Grove and helped her Originals 16U club team to a ninth-place finish at the ASA Northern Nationals in 2009.
Trickey will join the Missouri State program after a standout prep career at Belleville East High School, where she has picked up a pair of all-area nods. A catcher and infielder for the Lancers, Trickey led the Southwestern Conference is stolen bases last spring as a junior to earn first-team all-conference honors. A four-sport athlete at East, Trickey has also competed in volleyball, basketball and cross country.
MVC Preseason Poll
The Missouri State softball team was picked to finish fifth in the 2011 Missouri Valley Conference coaches' preseason poll. Defending champ Southern Illinois shared top billing with 2010 runner-up Illinois State, with each garnering 94 points in the poll. Drake (72) came in third in the voting, followed by UNI (69) and MSU with 57 points. Defending Valley Tournament champion Creighton (54) finished right on the Bears' heels, while Evansville (39), Wichita State (36), Indiana State (19) and Bradley (16) rounded out the poll.