Bears Begin Road Swing with Doubleheader at North Texas
Missouri State Bears (3-6) vs. North Texas Mean Green (11-6)
Site: Lovelace Stadium (300)Location: Denton, Texas
Live Stats: MeanGreenSports.comLive Audio: North Texas Radio (KNTU)
The Missouri State Bears will continue a nine-game road swing Wednesday afternoon when they travel to Denton, Texas, to take on the North Texas Mean Green in a 2 p.m. doubleheader. The Bears will be looking to bounce back from back-to-back losses to close out last weekend's Saint Louis University Breast Cancer Tournament. Missouri State dropped an 11-0 decision to No. 18 Missouri, then fell in extra- innings to host Saint Louis on Sunday, following a 3-2 win over SEMO on the opening day of the tournament.
The Mean Green enter Wednesday's action on a roll, having won five straight games and nine of their last 10 overall. North Texas wrapped up the Courtyard Classic title at home last weekend with a perfect 5-0 mark.
Wednesday's doubleheader will serve as a warm-up for the Bears' weekend trip to Norman, Okla., where they will take part in the four-team Oklahoma Sooners Spring Festival, March 12-13.
-Missouri State is a combined 7-11 in four tournament appearances at North Texas over the last seven years; the Bears have dropped five straight in Denton, including an 0-4 stint at last year's Sleep Inn Classic
-The Bears 3-6 start is two games better than their 1-8 start to the 2010 season
-Senior second baseman Christa Gammon led the Bears with a .500 batting average and a pair of stolen bases in four games last week
-Senior first baseman Ashley Knehans drove in a team-leading four runs last week; she combined with Gammon to go 6-for-8 with 4 RBIs in MSU's 7-6 loss to Saint Louis on Sunday
-The Bears have been out-scored 10-1 in the first inning through five games this year
-MSU batted just .177 as a team in its four games last week, while the opposition hit .356 by out-hitting the Bears, 42-17
-The Bears' four opponents last week combined to out-score them by a 25-7 margin
Missouri State is 2-1 against North Texas and enters Wednesday's game having taken the last two meetings from the Mean Green. All three previous match-ups in the series have taken place in Denton, with the last coming two years ago when the Bears claimed a 2-1 victory in eight innings at the Sleep Inn Classic.
Scouting the Bears
Missouri State is off to a 3-6 start with wins over Colorado State and Wisconsin at the season-opening TWC Texas Invitational (Feb. 18-20), as well as a come-from-behind victory over SEMO at last weekend's SLU Tournament. The Bears, who have dropped three games to Top 25 teams so far this season, 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 Mean Green
North Texas comes into Wednesday's doubleheader with an 11-6 mark on the season that includes a 5-0 stretch this past weekend to claim their own Courtyard Classic. Redshirt freshman pitcher Ashley Kirk is coming off a tournament that saw her go 3-0 without allowing a single earned run to earn tournament MVP and Sun Belt Conference Pitcher of the Week honors last week. Against MVC foe Wichita State last Saturday, Kirk threw a complete-game, four-hit shutout while striking out a school-record 14 Shockers in a 9-0 win. Sophomore Brittany Simmons has also been strong in the circle, compiling a 5-4 mark and team-low 2.48 ERA in 11 appearances. Sophomore shortstop Lesley Hirsch has been the Mean Green's most-consistent offensive threat so far this season, batting a team-leading .381 with 16 hits. Her sister, Monica Hirsch, has also started strong, entering the week with a .359 batting mark with a club-best 11 runs scored. Four players come into the week having hit two home runs or more, led by Caitlin Grimes's three clouts and team-high 11 RBIs. Junior infielder Lisa Johnson has also provided a power boost, hitting three homers to post a team-high .606 slugging percentage.
Bears Under Holly Hesse
Missouri State head coach Holly Hesse (Creighton, '82) is 572-563-2 (.5) 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.
The Bears travel to Norman, Okla., where they will take on No. 10 Oklahoma, Indiana and Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Saturday and Sunday in the four-game tournament at OU Softball Complex. MSU opens the tournament with an 11 a.m. contest against UAPB on Saturday, then meets Indiana at 1:15 p.m., Saturday. The Bears will play host OU at 12:15 p.m. Sunday, then close the weekend with another contest against one of the three teams in the championship round.