Bears Kick-Off Busy Week with Tuesday Tilt Against North Dakota State
Missouri State Bears (7-8)
vs. North Dakota State (6-17)
Site: Killian Stadium (1,200)Location: Springfield, Mo.
Live Stats: MissouriStateBears.com
After winning four of their six games last week, the Missouri State Bears return home to begin a 10-game home stand, beginning with a Tuesday non-conference match-up against the North Dakota State Bison at Killian Stadium. The Bears will also take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers in single games Wednesday and Thursday, before kicking off the 2011 Missouri Valley Conference season with three games against the UNI Panthers.
The Bears are coming off their best week of the season to date, highlighted by a four-game win streak that represents their longest in two years. MSU swept a mid-week doubleheader at North Texas, then claimed wins versus Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Indiana in their first two games at the Oklahoma Spring Festival in Norman, Okla. MSU wrapped up the week with back-to-back losses to No. 10 Oklahoma, marking their fourth and fifth games of the season against a ranked opponent.
-The Bears are 2-1 against Big Ten foes this season after going winless against the league in seven games over the previous 15 years
-Stevie Pierce's .568 on-base percentage leads the Valley and her .628 slugging percentage is third
-Missouri State has won 16 of its previous 27 conference openers
-With their two losses at No. 10 Oklahoma on Sunday, the Bears are now winless in their last 13 games against ranked opponents
-The Bears have been out-scored by a combined 13-4 margin in the first inning so far this season
-MSU posted double-digit hit totals in four of its first 11 contests, but has not totaled more than five safeties in any of its last three games
-Bears hitters are 0-for-12 this season with the bases loaded
-Missouri State pinch hitters are batting just .115 (3-of-26) this season
-The Bears are 4-0 in games freshman Savannah Wiggins has started in the circle
Missouri State brings a combined 10-2 mark in to play against its two non-conference foes this week. The Bears are 4-1 in five previous meetings with North Dakota State and 6-1 against Minnesota. Against UNI, the Bears hold the slimmest of all series leads, coming into the weekend with a 36-35 edge vs. the Panthers. Last year, the two clubs split four games, with MSU claiming a 4-3 victory on opening day at the MVC Softball Championship in Des Moines.
Scouting The Bears
Missouri State is off to a 7-8 start after posting wins in four of its six games last week. The Bears, who have dropped five 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 Opposition
North Dakota State comes into the week with a 7-16 overall mark after returning eight letterwinners from last year's 33-25 squad that finished second in the Summit League. The Bison are led by senior shortstop Nicole Rivera's .324 batting average and junior third baseman Brea Konz's 10 RBIs on offense, while sophomore righty Whitney Johnson anchors the pitching staff with a 3.89 ERA and 42 strikeouts through 54.0 innings pitched.
Minnesota enters play Tuesday 14-10 after going just 16-47 a year ago. The Golden Gophers welcome back 11 letterwinners, including senior first baseman Malisa Barnes, who paces the squad with a .457 batting mark and team highs of 32 hits and 20 runs scored. Catcher Kari Dorle has hit a club-best six homers, while fellow sophomore Alex Davis leads the team with 25 runs batted-in. In the circle, Minnesota relies on freshman right-hander Sara Moulton, who has 13 of the team's 14 victories to go along with a 2.73 earned run average.
UNI was off to a 12-8 start coming into the week after being tabbed fourth in the MVC's preseason poll. Junior outfielder Hannah Borschel leads the team with a .443 average, 27 hits and 14 runs scored, while junior catcher/infielder Courtney Dunker paces the squad with 14 runs driven in. Freshman Jamie Fischer and junior Jaye Hutcheson have carried the load for the Panthers in the circle thus far, entering play this week having combined for eight victories in 94.0 of UNI's 127.0 innings pitched on the year.
Bears Under Holly Hesse
Missouri State head coach Holly Hesse (Creighton, '82) is 576-566-2 (.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.
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 15 games of the 2011 campaign. MSU got long balls from Caitlin Chapin and Heather Duckworth in its first two games of the season, before experiencing a nine-game homerless streak that finally ended Saturday with Stevie Pierce's game-winning two-run shot in the second inning vs. UAPB. That clout halted a stretch of 249 consecutive at-bats without a homer for the Bears.
Who Came Up With This Schedule, Anyway?
Missouri State has played five games against three ranked opponents through its first 15 contests of the season. In those five outings, the Bears have been out-hit 42-13 and out-scored 33-2 in going 0-5 against No. 13 Texas (twice), No. 18 Missouri and No. 10 Oklahoma. The Bears now have a 13-game losing streak vs. teams ranked in the NFCA Top 25, with their last win coming at then-No. 11 OU on March 19, 2008.
Coming Up Roses
After playing a pivotal role in all four Missouri State victories last week, Natalie Rose was named Missouri Valley Conference Pitcher of the Week Monday. The Valley honor is the first of Rose's MSU career and the first for any Bear in nearly two years.
Rose won a pair of games and saved two more for the Bears last week, posting a 1.62 earned run average in 30.1 innings over six appearances. In all, she completed three of her four starts, including a three-hit shutout of North Texas in which she fanned eight batters and allowed just five baserunners in a 1-0 MSU win.
What A Cut-Up
Sophomore shortstop Kirstin Cutter enters the week with hits in nine of the Bears' 15 games. The sophomore also posted a four-game hit streak, from March 4-12. 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.
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 40 at-bats this year, and has gone down on strikes just 41 times in 442 career at-bats, or once in every 10.8 at-bats.
Senior infielder Christa Gammon has led MSU's offensive surge by going 11-of-25 (.440) over the Bears' last seven games. The Fairview Heights, Ill., product had three doubles at North Texas (March 9) and posted three straight multi-hit games, March 6-9. Gammon's streak rivaled 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.
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.
So far this season, Hesse has used 12 different lineup combinations in the Bears' first 15 games.
Follow The Bears
Live stats for all six Missouri State softball games this week will be available on the Missouri State Athletics web site at missouristatebears.com.
Additionally, select MSU softball games will be broadcast live via streaming video on Bears Live, MSU's premium broadband video destination for exclusive live and on-demand streaming content. The subscription-based service will include video and audio courtesy of Meyer Communications for eight regular-season MSU softball contests in 2011, including three games this week.