Softball Bears Set to Open Play at Oklahoma Spring Festival Saturday



Missouri State Bears (5-6)

at Oklahoma Spring Festival

Dates: Saturday, March 11-Sunday, March 12
Site: Marita Hynes Field (1,000)Location: Norman, Okla.
Live Stats: SoonerSports.comLive Audioi/Video:

Tournament Overview

After stopping a two-game skid Wednesday with a doubleheader sweep of North Texas, the Missouri State Bears will travel to Norman, Okla., this weekend for their final pre-conference tournament of the 2011 season. The Bears will be one of four teams competing in the Oklahoma Spring Festival, along with the Indiana Hoosiers, Arkansas Pine-Bluff Lady Lions and the tenth-ranked Oklahoma Sooners.

Missouri State got standout performances from junior pitcher Natalie Rose and senior second baseman Christa Gammon Wednesday to turn back a red-hot North Texas club in both ends of a twin bill. Rose blanked the Mean Green, 1-0, on three hits in the opener, then hurled the final three innings of the nightcap to earn her first save of the season in an 8-5 win. Gammon, meanwhile, went 5-for-9 with three doubles to lead the MSU offensive charge.

This weekend's slate will see the Bears face their third ranked opponent of the season, as well as their second foe from the Big Ten Conference. MSU will take on UAPB in its tourney opener at 11 a.m. Saturday, before meeting up with Indiana immediately following that game at 1:15 p.m. The Bears will wrap up play in the tourney Sunday, matching up with the host Sooners at 12:15 p.m., and a to-be-determined opponent in the championship round.

Quick Hits

-The Bears are winless in their last nine games against ranked opponents dating back to a March 19, 2008 win over the same Oklahoma squad they will square off against Sunday

-Senior second baseman Christa Gammon enters the weekend with hits in eight of her last 13 at-bats (.615) with three straight multi-hit games

-Since being no-hit by Missouri's Chelsea Thomas Sunday, the Bears have pounded out 25 hits and    scored 15 runs over their last three outings

-The Bears have been out-scored by a combined 11-1 margin in the first inning so far this season

-MSU has posted double-digit hit totals in four of their first 11 contests

-After hitting a home run in each of their first two contests of the season, the Bears have gone homer-less over their last nine games

-Missouri State posted season highs for doubles (4) and stolen bases (3) in completing their doubleheader sweep of North Texas with an 8-5 victory Wednesday

-Both Gammon and sophomore shortstop Kirstin Cutter bring season-high three-game hitting streaks into Saturday's action        

Series Records

Missouri State brings a combined 15-16 record against the field into this weekend's tournament. The Bears have beaten UAPB in each of their two previous meetings, and hold a 4-3 edge in their series with Indiana. Success against Oklahoma has been slightly less prevalent, with the Sooners leading the series, 13-9. MSU did get the better of OU in the two clubs' last meeting in March 2008, claiming a 3-2 win over the No. 11 Sooners in Norman.

Scouting the Bears

Missouri State is off to a 5-6 start with its doubleheader sweep of North Texas Wednesday. The Bears, who have dropped three games to nationally-ranked clubs, 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.

About the Field

Highlighting the tournament field is the host Oklahoma Sooners, who enter the week ranked 10th in the latest NFCA Poll. OU brings an 18-5 mark into the weekend after finishing 47-12 with an NCAA Super Regional appearance last year. The Sooners, who are batting .328 with 27 homers as a team, bring back 10 letterwinners from that club, led by sophomore Jessica Shults, who has already clubbed 12 home runs while hitting .423. Another sophomore, Keilani Rickets, has followed up her 32-win rookie campaign with a strong opening month that has seen her go 10-2 with a 1.01 ERA and five shutouts.

The Indiana Hoosiers will enter the weekend with 10 wins in their first 18 games to nearly match their 2010 season total of 12 victories. The Hoosiers bring back 11 letterwinners and seven regular starters, including senior Sara Olson, who paces the club with a .340 average, three homers and 12 runs batted-in. The pitching corps is led by senior lefty Morgan Melloh, who is 8-8 with a 2.52 earned run average.

The Bears' first opponent of the weekend, the Arkansas-Pine Bluff Lady Lions, come into the tourney winless in six outings this season. UAPB, which hasn't seen any game action in more than two weeks, went 6-29 a year ago and brings back six letterwinners. Leading the way for UAPB is Misti Cosby and Jill Howard, who have matching .333 batting averages for a club hitting just .162 on the year.       

Bears under Holly Hesse

Missouri State head coach Holly Hesse (Creighton, '82) is 574-564-2 (.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.

Power Outage

After tying the school record for home runs in season last year, the Bears have seen a drop in their power numbers through the first 11 games of the 2011 campaign. MSU got long balls from Caitlin Chapin and Heather Duckworth in its first two games of the season, but since then, no Bear has taken one out of the yard. That drought covers a stretch of 239 consecutive at-bats, and the Bears have amassed just nine extra-base hits altogether over the same span.

Who came up with this schedule, Anyway?

Missouri State has played three games against two ranked opponents through its first 11 contests of the season and will play at least one more this weekend against No. 10 Oklahoma. In those three outings, the Bears have been out-hit 32-5 and out-scored 23-1 in going 0-3 against No. 13 Texas (twice) and No. 18 Missouri. In its last trip to Norman, however, MSU did defeat then-No. 11 OU, 3-2, on March 19, 2008. That win represents the Bears' last against a ranked foe, and they enter the weekend with a nine-game losing streak vs. teams ranked in the NFCA Top 25.

What a Cut-Up

Sophomore shortstop Kirstin Cutter enters the weekend with hits in seven of the Bears' 11 games, as well as two separate three-game hit streaks. The Oklahoma City native is one of three Bears, along with Tyler Porter in center and Madison Hargrove at catcher, to make every start at her position this year.

Nice Eye

Senior utility 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.

Schwark has fanned three times in 30 at-bats this year, and has gone down on strikes just 41 times in 432 at-bats, or once in every 10.5 at-bats.

Slammin' Gammon

Senior infielder Christa Gammon has led MSU's offensive surge by going 8-of-13 (.615) over the last three games. The Fairview Heights, Ill., product had three doubles in Wednesday's doubleheader sweep at North Texas, and has posted three straight multi-hit games. Gammon's streak rivals a pair of similar stretches she turned in last season. She batted .727 with four doubles and five runs scored against Evansville in late March, then went 12-for-17 (.706) over a four-game stretch against Indiana State and UNI, May 1-8.

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. She also tied for the league lead with two triples and rated fourth in runs scored (18) in Valley play last season.

New Beginnings

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.    

So far, the Bears' 5-6 mark is three games ahead of last year's pace, when MSU compiled a 2-9 mark through 11 contests.

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.



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