Bears Set to Open Valley Season Against UNI Saturday
Missouri State Bears (9-9, 0-0 MVC)
vs. UNI Panthers (13-11, 0-0 MVC)
Time: 12:00 p.m.(DH)/12:00 p.m.
Site: Killian Stadium (1,200)Location: Springfield, Mo.
Live Stats: MissouriStateBears.comLive Video: Bears Live (Saturday only)
Radio: KBFL 1060 AM (Saturday only)
After sweeping a pair of games from Minnesota earlier in the week, the Missouri State Bears will kick-off the 2011 Missouri Valley Conference season with three games against the UNI Panthers this weekend, beginning with a Saturday (March 19) noon doubleheader at Killian Stadium.
The Bears are coming off a stretch that saw them win six of their final nine pre-conference contests, including three wins over Big Ten foes. On Thursday, MSU posted its second straight 2-1 victory over Minnesota to run its season record to 4-1 against the oldest conference in the land.
UNI enters the MVC season with a 13-11 mark following losses to North Dakota State and the same Minnesota squad earlier this week.
-The Bears are 4-1 against Big Ten foes this season after going winless against the league in seven games over the previous 15 years
-Stevie Pierce's .535 on-base percentage and 17 walks on the season lead the Valley
-Missouri State has won 16 of its previous 27 conference openers
-With their two losses at No. 10 Oklahoma on March 13, 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 totaled more than five safeties just once in its last seven games
-The Bears are 5-0 in games freshman Savannah Wiggins has started in the circle
The Bears hold the slimmest of all series leads against UNI, 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 9-9 start after posting wins in six of its nine games coming into the conference season. 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
UNI is off to a 13-11 start coming into the weekend after being tabbed fourth in the MVC's preseason poll. Junior outfielder Hannah Borschel leads the team with a .394 average, 28 hits and 16 runs scored, while Courtney Dunker and Eranne Daugharthy pace the squad with 15 runs driven in apiece. Freshman Jamie Fischer and junior Jaye Hutcheson have carried the load for the Panthers in the circle thus far, entering play this weekend having combined for nine victories in 112.2 of UNI's 154.2 innings pitched on the year.
Bears Under Holly Hesse
Missouri State head coach Holly Hesse (Creighton, '82) is 578-567-2 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 18 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 last 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 five games against three ranked opponents in its first 15 contests of the season. In those five outings, the Bears were 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 entered the week with hits in nine of the Bears' first 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 four times in 47 at-bats this year, and has gone down on strikes just 42 times in three-plus seasons.
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.