Bears Look to Break Through Against No. 18 Oklahoma State Tuesday
Missouri State Bears (11-10, 2-1 MVC)
vs. No. 18 Oklahoma State Cowgirls (25-6)
Time: 5 p.m.
Site: Killian Stadium (1,200)Location: Springfield, Mo.
Live Stats: MissouriStateBears.comLive Video: Bears Live
Radio: KBFL 1060 AM (Rob Evans)Television: Mediacom MC-22 (Don West, Mike McClure)
Following a successful week that saw them win four of their six contests, the Missouri State Bears will look to continue building momentum with a single game against No. 18 Oklahoma State Tuesday (March 22) before resuming conference play with a three-game set at Indiana State Saturday and Sunday.
Missouri State enters the week having won eight of its last 12 games, following an Missouri Valley Conference season-opening series win over UNI this past weekend. Tuesday's contest will be the Bears' sixth this season against a ranked opponent from the Big 12 Conference, but their first such game on their own turf. MSU dropped a pair of games at No. 13 Texas and at No. 10 Oklahoma, as well as a single tilt against No. 18 Missouri on a neutral field.
The Bears will be seeking their eighth straight win against Indiana State when the two clubs square off Saturday in the series opener. MSU has swept the Sycamores in each of the last two years and has won 12 of the last 14 meetings dating back to 2006.
-After going winless against the Big Ten over the last 15 years, the Bears are 4-1 against the league this season after sweeping two games Minnesota last week
-The Bears are winless in their last 13 games against ranked opponents
-The Bears have been out-scored by a combined 16-5 margin in the first inning and 21-5 in the sixth inning this season
-MSU posted double-digit hit totals in four of its first 11 contests, but have failed to do so in any of its last 10 games
-Missouri State has totaled more than three runs just once in its last nine outings
-Conversely, Bears pitching has yielded more than three runs just twice over the same span
-Bears hitters are 0-for-17 this season with the bases loaded
-The Bears are 10-1 this year when entering the sixth inning leading or tied with the opposition
-Missouri State pinch hitters are batting just .088 (3-of-34) this season
-Christa Gammon is a career .346 hitter vs. Indiana State, including an 8-for-12 performance in three games last year against the Sycamores
-Caitlin Chapin broke out of a 1-for-16 slump with three hits in seven at-bats in two games vs. UNI Sunday, including her first two extra-base hits since opening day (Feb. 18)
-Natalie Rose leads the MVC with four saves and her 87 strikeouts rank fourth in the circuit
-Kirstin Cutter ranks third in the Valley in hitting (.388) and has at least one hit in 10 of her last 13 games
Oklahoma State has dominated the series with the Bears, bringing a 21-5 advantage into Tuesday's game. The Cowgirls have won six in-a-row in the series dating back to 2006.
The Bears have dominated their series with Indiana State, on the other hand, taking 48 of their first 66 games vs. the Sycamores. MSU has won each of its last seven games against ISU, including three-game sweeps the last two seasons. Additionally, the Bears have claimed series wins in each of their last four trips to Terre Haute, amassing a 10-2 road mark against ISU since 2003.
Scouting The Bears
Missouri State is off to an 11-10 start after posting wins in eight of its last 12 outings. 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
Oklahoma State comes into Tuesday's game with a 25-6 overall mark, good for the No. 18 position in the latest NFCA Top 25 Poll. The Cowgirls return 12 letterwinners from last year's squad that went 44-16 and finished fourth in the Big 12. Leading the way for OSU is the senior tandem of Alysia Hamilton and Mariah Gearhart, who enter the week hitting .427 and .407, respectively. Hamilton has recorded a team-high 41 hits, while Gearhart leads the club with 34 runs scored and 23 stolen bases. With Hamilton and Gearhart setting the table, junior Julie Ward provides the power for the Cowgirls, coming into Tuesday's game with eight homers and 31 runs driven-in to lead OSU, which is hitting .326 as a team. In the circle, sophomore Kat Espinosa is 12-2 with a 1.66 ERA and four shutouts to date. She has plenty of help, as each of the Cowgirl's other three pitchers has posted an earned run average below 2.00 coming into the week. As a staff, OSU has limited the opposition to a .189 average, while striking-out 200 batters in 205.0 innings.
Indiana State is coming off a three-game sweep at Drake in its Valley-opening series last weekend. The Sycamores are 9-11 entering Thursday's non-conference match-up with Butler after going 20-31 and finishing ninth in the MVC a year ago. ISU brings back 14 letterwinners, including six regular starters, led by junior catcher Bailey Wittenauer (.311/2 HR/11 RBI). Freshman outfielder Alex Baumgart paces the squad with a .400 batting mark, while sophomore Kim Pierce (.306) is also above the .300 mark coming into the week. The strength of the ISU club has been its pitching staff, which has held the opposition to a collective .229 batting average through the first 20 games of the season. Junior lefty Lindsay Beisser has a team-low 1.63 ERA, while sophomore right-hander Kristin Felker leads the club with five wins in the circle
Bears Under Holly Hesse
Missouri State head coach Holly Hesse (Creighton, '82) is 580-568-2 (.505) 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.
Off and Running
By taking two of three games from UNI over the weekend, Missouri State posted its first opening series win in Valley play since 2006, when they swept Indiana State in a three-game set en route to starting the MVC season with 10 straight victories. Over the previous four years since that season, the Bears had gone a combined 1-9 in their first conference series.
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 21 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 March 12 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. In all, MSU has been out-homered 17-5 on the year.
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 March 14. 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 the week of March 7-13, 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.
Rose has not yielded more than three earned runs in any of her last 13 appearances dating back to March 6. The junior right-hander has posted a 4-4 mark with four saves and a 1.34 ERA and has 56 strikeouts in 57.1 innings over the same stretch.
Kenhans Joins Century Club
Senior first baseman Ashley Knehans became the 36th Bear to record 100 career hits by going 2-for-3 in Saturday's MVC opener against UNI. Knehans joined fellow seniors Jenna Schwark and Christa Gammon, who each notched their 100th hits last season.
You Can't Spell Wiggins Without A 'W'
Freshman right-hander Savannah Wiggins went 2-0 in the circle last week and the Bears won each of her three starts. On the year, the Huffman, Texas, native has made seven starts, and Missouri State is a perfect 7-0 in those games. Wiggins also made a start as the Bears' designated player last week. The result: a Missouri State victory, of course.
What A Cut-Up
Sophomore shortstop Kirstin Cutter enters the week with hits in 14 of the Bears' 21 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 54 at-bats this year, and has gone down on strikes just 42 times in 456 career at-bats, or once in every 10.9 at-bats.
Who Came Up With This Schedule, Anyway?
Missouri State has played five games against three ranked opponents through its first 21 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.
Senior infielder Christa Gammon batted 12-of-28 (.429) over an eight-game stretch, March 6-13, in which she recorded at least one hit in all seven of her starts during that span. 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.
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.
Follow The Bears
Live stats for all four Missouri State softball games this week will be available on the Missouri State Athletics web site at missouristatebears.com.
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 Tuesday's game with Oklahoma State.
Additionally, Tuesday's game will be broadcast on a tape-delay basis by Mediacom (MC-22) in southwest Missouri. The contest will premier Wednesday evening at 7 p.m., and replay at the same time both Thursday and Friday.