Bears Look to Continue Road Dominance this Weekend at Illinois State
Missouri State Bears (14-13, 4-4 MVC)vs. Illinois State Redbirds (16-14, 4-4 MVC) When: Saturday, April 4 @ 12 p.m. (DH) and Sunday, April 5 @ 12 p.m.
Where: Marian Kneer Softball Stadium (Normal, Ill.) Live Stats: http://www.missouristatebears.com/liveStats/liveStats.dbml?DB_OEM_ID=13800&KEY=
The Missouri State Bears will look to continue their climb in the Missouri Valley Conference standings this weekend when they travel to Normal, Ill., where they will take on the Illinois State Redbirds in a three-game MVC set, beginning with a noon doubleheader on Saturday (April 4).
Missouri State will try to keep its momentum going after winning five of its last six outings. The Bears’ weekend series with Drake was washed away following heavy rain in Springfield last Saturday, but MSU won two of its three games last week to improve to 14-13 overall and 4-4 in MVC play.
Missouri State enters Saturday’s action having won five of its last six games
The Bears have batted .286 as a team and outscored the opposition 30-17 over their last six contests
Senior shortstop Jessie Smith continues to lead the Missouri State offense, coming into the week atop the MVC leader board in hitting (.447), steals (11), on-base percentage (.505) and total bases (65), second in slugging percentage (.765) and hits (38)
MSU senior Ashley Arbon has hit safely in a career-best six straight games coming into Saturday’s doubleheader, batting .350 (7-for-20) with 4 RBIs over the course of the six games; sophomore Jenna Schwark has a four-game streak going, while Smith has hit in five consecutive contests
Follow the Bears
Live stats for all three games this weekend will be available on the Missouri State Athletics official web site, www.missouristatebears.com. Additionally, live video of all three games of MSU’s series at Illinois State will be available at www. goredbirds.com (subscription required).
Illinois State maintains a commanding 51-29 edge versus MSU, but the Bears took three of four meetings last year, including a 5-4 decision in the semifinal round of the State Farm MVC Tournament in Carbondale, Ill.
Scouting thE Redbirds
After sweeping its MVC midweek doubleheader with Indiana State on Wednesday, Illinois State comes into the series with MSU 16-14 overall and 4-4 in The Valley. The Redbirds return seven regulars and all three pitchers from last year’s 28-20 squad that finished second in the conference. Operating without the services of two-time all-conference third baseman Kara Nelson for most of the season, the Redbirds have struggled at the plate in 2009. ISU enters the weekend hitting just .235 as a team, led by senior Amber Smith (.333/3 HR/16 RBI). The Valley’s all-time home run leader, Smith was one of four Redbirds to be named preseason all-MVC. Along with Nelson and senior outfielder Jessie Buker (.213/1 HR/7 RBI), sophomore DP Abby Olson (.296/6 HR/21 RBI) was also tabbed for the honor by the Valley coaches. She hasn’t disappointed so far, posting team-highs in home runs and RBIs. Junior transfer Niki Stansell (.323/3 HR/14 RBI/4 SB) and senior catcher Casey Gorrell (.310/4 HR/12 RBI) has also turned in solid starts to the campaign. In the circle, freshman Jordan Birch (8-6/1.98 ERA/97 SO) has led the way, recording seven straight wins for the Redbirds from Feb. 14 through March 15. Smith has also been dependable, going 6-7 with a 2.86 ERA and six complete games.
Bears under Holly Hesse
Missouri State head coach Holly Hesse (Creighton, ’82) is 543-514-2 (.514) in her 21st season at Missouri State. Last season, the Bears finished 28-22 and 11-13 in the MVC to place seventh, but MSU recorded three wins in two days at the MVC Tournament to reach the title game.
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. The Bears’ second-place MVC finish marked the 12th time during her tenure the Bears have finished in the top-five of the conference standings. It was also the sixth time the Bears have won 30 games in a season, with an average of nearly 27 wins per season since her arrival in 1989.
Hesse won her 500th career game at Missouri State in a 1-0 triumph over Indiana State on April 22, 2007. She joined Illinois State’s Melinda Fischer and Creighton’s Brent Vigness as the only active MVC coaches with 500 career wins.
Home Sweet Home
The 2009 season marks the debut of the Bears’ brand new, 1,200-seat home park, Killian Softball Stadium. Financed and constructed as part of the Springfield-Greene County Park Board’s $2.7 million renovation of the Roger G. Killian Sports Complex, MSU’s new home will give the Bears a state-of-the-art facility and open up the possibility of hosting future NCAA regional competitions.
MSU’s March 7 dedication ceremony included over 40 former players and coaches from all but three of Missouri State’s 40 varsity softball teams. The Bears dropped their first game at their new park, a 4-1 decision to SEMO on March 6, but bounced back to knock off UMKC by a 3-1 score the following day to commemorate the facility’s dedication.
Putting it All Together
Over their last six games, the Bears have undergone a resurgence of sorts, both at the plate and in the circle. As a team, MSU is batting .286 and averaging five runs per outing, while recording a 1.88 earned run average and holding the opposition to a .203 batting average and a mere 2.8 runs per contest. Those numbers offer a stark contrast to the Bears’ first 21 contests of the season, in which they were scoring at a 3.5 run per game clip and hitting just .258, while posting a 3.34 ERA in allowing 4.3 runs and a .274 batting average to the opposition.
Let’s Play Two
Missouri State and Iowa State nearly completed a double dip on March 19, despite the schedule calling for just a single game. The Bears and Cyclones engaged in the second 13-inning contest in MSU history in a game that took three hours and nine minutes to complete. That matched a March 24, 1992 game against Louisiana-Lafayette, won by the Ragin’ Cajuns, 2-1, for the longest game on record at Missouri State. It also represents just the third contest involving a Valley team to extend 13 or more innings since the 2001 season, and the conference’s longest since Indiana State battled Saint Louis in a 14-inning affair on March 22, 2007.
Climbing the Charts
Jessie Smith continued her assault on the Missouri State record book last week, moving up the charts in seven offensive categories. Most notably, Smith bested her own career marks in home runs (25), slugging percentage (.563) and total bases (306), and also moved into second place on MSU’s career runs scored list (117). She needs just six more runs to reach Kate Madden’s all-time mark of 123. Additionally, Smith’s homer against Wichita State last Thursday moved her into a tie for 12th on The Valley’s career home run list, matching four others.
The Bears one-two punch of Lauren McGinley and Lauren Supak in the circle has the opposition seeing double as of late. MSU’s two Laurens have combined to go 4-1 with a 1.76 ERA, four complete games and three shutouts in their last six starts, all of which have come on the road. McGinley has worked into at least the sixth inning in five consecutive starts, while Supak has posted four straight outings of 5 2/3 inning or more.
A Shew-in at First
In addition to leading the Bears with a .429 batting average the week of March 16-22, senior first baseman Jana Shewmaker turned in a record-setting day in the field against Iowa State on March 19, registering an all-time MSU single-game high of 22 putouts. That figure bested Ashley Meredith’s MSU individual record of 21 putouts, set May 8, 2004, against Bradley in a 12-inning game. It also represents the third-highest total by a Valley player since the 2001 season. As a team, Missouri State’s 39 putouts against the Cyclones surpassed its previous single-game record of 37, set in the Bears’ only other 13-inning contest on record (3/24/92 vs. Louisiana-Lafayette).
Watch the leather, man
Missouri State ended the 2008 season ranked second nationally and first in The Valley with a .981 team fielding percentage. Texas A&M led the nation in fielding with a .984 percentage. MSU’s mark was the sixth-best fielding percentage in NCAA Division I history. Among the Bears’ regulars, Christa Gammon and Elysha Swider posted perfect fielding percentages in 2008.
The Bears have finished among the nation’s top 30 teams in fielding percentage each of the last three seasons after posting a .969 mark in 2007 to finish 29th and a .975 percentage in 2006 to rate 12th in the land.
So far in 2009, MSU has posted a .963 fielding percentage, good for fourth in the MVC.
Lucky Number 3
Last season the Bears were 24-3 when scoring at least three runs in a game. However, Missouri State was just 4-19 when failing to tally three runs. So far this season, MSU is 11-6 in such games and 3-7 when failing to total at least three runs. The Bears are now 53-12 in such contests over the last three seasons.
A Not-So-Fine How-Do-You-Do
UNI used a string of big innings to sweep its three-game series with the Bears to open MVC play, March 14-15. The Panthers outscored MSU by a 34-14 margin over the three games, setting a Missouri State opponent record for both total runs scored and total scoring margin in a conference series. In their 477 previous conference games in 25 Valley seasons, the Bears had allowed the opposition to score 11 runs or more in a single game just seven times. UNI accomplished the feat in all three contests, besting the Bears by scores of 12-5, 11-5 and 11-4. The Panthers’ 34 runs also represented the highest successive three-game total on record for a Missouri State opponent.
On the bright side
The Bears’ offense did display several reasons to be optimistic against UNI. Missouri State recorded 24 hits and nine walks in the three-game set with UNI. MSU came into the series ranked seventh in the conference in hits, averaging just 6.8 safeties per game, and ninth in walks, with just 28 total bases-on-balls in its first 16 games. Additionally, the Bears came into Valley play averaging just 3.4 runs per outing before tallying 14 (4.67 per game) in the series with the Panthers.
Bears Go Deep
After hitting just two home runs in its first nine games of the season, Missouri State has clubbed 13 long balls in its last 18 contests. The Bears hit three home runs in their 9-8 loss to Central Arkansas (Feb. 22), marking the first time they accomplished the feat since last April 26 vs. Southern Illinois. Christa Gammon led-off the ball game with an inside-the-park homer down the left field line, and Ashley Knehans belted her first homer of the year two batters later. With two out in the seventh inning, Jen Carr launched just her second career homer, a two-run shot that pulled the Bears to within one run. Last weekend at the Frost Classic, it was Jessie Smith’s turn to power up, as the Bears’ all-time home run leader twice broke her own school record against Valparaiso. Her first dinger started a four-run, sixth-inning rally and her lead-off shot in the bottom of the seventh handed MSU a 7-6 win. In MSU’s nightcap, Jenna Schwark’s two-run bomb in the top of the ninth sealed the Bears’ 4-0 victory over Tennessee Tech.
MSU continued its homer binge at the All-Missouri Classic, getting another two-run homer from Carr to pull even with Saint Louis in the top of the fifth inning March 8, and a two-out, grand slam from Knehans-the first of her career-in the seventh to wrap up an 8-4 win.
Just past the half-way point of the regular season, the Bears are well ahead of their 2008 home run pace. MSU hit just 21 home runs last season to rank last in the Missouri Valley Conference.
Laurels for lauren
Junior Lauren McGinley was named the Missouri Valley Conference’s Co-Pitcher of the Week for the period February 23-March 1, the league office announced March 2. McGinley picked up both Missouri State victories at the Frost Classic in Chattanooga, Tenn., posting 9.2 scoreless innings in all.
McGinley earned a win in relief in MSU’s first game of the day on February 27, a come-from-behind 7-6 decision over Valparaiso. With the go-ahead run on third base, she recorded the final two outs of the seventh inning before Jessie Smith won it for the Bears with a lead-off homer in the bottom half of the inning.
In MSU’s 4-0, nine-inning win over Tennessee Tech later in the day, McGinley turned in her second shutout of the season and her second extra-innings complete-game effort of 2009. She limited the Golden Eagles to just four singles, only one of which came after the fourth inning, in a career-best nine innings of work.
McGinley picked up another honor from the conference office on March 26 when she was named Prairie Farms MVC Scholar-Athlete of the Week. The Valley’s Scholar-Athlete program honors its student-athletes for their athletic performance for a one-week period and academic success in the classroom. McGinley went 2-0 with a 1.07 earned-run average in three starts the week of March 16-22, as the Bears swept a three-game series from Indiana State. The Oklahoma City native, who has a 3.86 cumulative grade-point average in physical education, blanked ISU, 4-0, on March 21, yielding just three hits while striking out four. The following afternoon she took a no-hitter into the sixth inning before settling for a two-hit shutout in a 2-0 Bears’ triumph.
McGinley becomes the first Bear to be honored with the award since Melissa Porche earned the distinction March 25, 2008.
All-Tourney honors for MSU Trio
Three Bears earned all-tournament honors after helping MSU go 3-2 at the North Texas Sleep Inn Classic, Feb. 20-22. Senior shortstop Jessie Smith went 9-for-17 (.529) with four runs scored, three steals, three doubles and three RBIs in five games and extended her hitting streak to 11 games. Fellow senior Ashley Arbon also enjoyed a breakthrough tournament, going 6-for-10 at the plate with three steals, while sophomore Jenna Schwark batted .571 (8-for-14) with four runs scored and five more driven in for the Bears.
bears ink six
The Bears received six commitments for the 2009-10 academic year during the November National Letter of Intent signing period. Holly Hesse and her staff announced the additions of Caitlin Chapin (Ozark, Mo.), Stevie Pierce (Plano, Texas), Alaina Burkhart (Neosho, Mo.), Lauren Eisenreich (Blue Springs, Mo.), Madison Hargrove (Shawnee, Kan.) and Kirstin Cutter (Oklahoma City, Okla).
Burkhart (OF) hit .392 in her first year at Crowder College en route to earning second-team NJCAA all-region honors. The Neosho, Mo., native hit leadoff for former Bear softball standout and current Crowder coach Lori (Dilbeck) Videmschek, and will add speed to the MSU outfield and a versatile bat to the Bears’ lineup. A three-time all-district and all-Southwest Conference honoree at Neosho High, Burkhart helped the Wildcats to three district titles as a prep standout.
Chapin (IF) completed her career at Ozark (Mo.) High School as one of the area’s most decorated players. A four-time All-Ozarks selection, Chapin set OHS career records for home runs, runs batted in, runs scored and hits, leading the Lady Tigers to three district titles. In 2007 she clubbed 11 home runs, which tied for the fourth-highest single-season total in Missouri high school softball history, en route to leading Ozark to a fourth-place Class 4 finish.
Cutter (SS) was an all-state selection at Oklahoma City’s Western Heights High School this past fall. Primarily a strong-armed shortstop, Cutter is a left-handed slap-hitter who is quick on the base baths. A four-time all-conference honoree, Cutter has also competed in basketball, cross country and soccer at Western Heights.
Eisenreich (OF) earned all-district honors in helping Blue Springs High School to the Missouri Class 4 title with a perfect 32-0 team record this fall. The daughter of former major league outfielder Jim Eisenreich, she was a part of three district championship squads at Blue Springs, picking up all-region honors each of her last two seasons as a prep. A defensive specialist in centerfield, Eisenreich possesses a strong arm and an uncanny ability to track the ball.
Hargrove (C/SS) enters her final prep season this spring at Mill Valley (Shawnee, Kan.) High School as a three-year starter and two-time all-conference selection as a catcher for the Jaguars. Hargrove’s strong arm and athleticism could provide her the unique opportunity to see playing time both behind the plate and at shortstop for the Bears.
Pierce (1B/OF) is another prep standout with the ability to provide added punch to Bears’ lineup. The Plano (Texas) High School product hit .485 with four homers as a junior and has earned three all-district nods. Pierce brings the versatility to play first base and the outfield. She played summer ball for the Texas Glory Gold, a team that featured 13 players committed to play at Division I institutions.
On The Board
Several Bears rank among the Missouri Valley Conference leaders through games of April 1. Jessie Smith’s .447 batting average, 11 stolen bases, .765 slugging percentage, .505 on-base percentage and 65 total bases lead the Missouri Valley Conference through the first half of the season, while her two triples and 38 hits both rank second in the league. The senior shortstop is in the MVC’s top five in doubles (t-5th) and runs scored (t-5th). Jenna Schwark is tied with Smith for the team lead with 21 runs scored to also rank fifth in The Valley. In the circle, Lauren McGinley’s eight wins is tied for the fourth-highest total in the MVC and her four shutouts is tied for third, while Natalie Rose is second in the circuit with nine games finished.
fab frosh Now Super Sophs
Missouri State will be looking for even bigger things from a talented sophomore class that made an immediate impact for the Bears in 2008. Ashley Knehans clubbed three home runs and finished fourth on the team with 14 runs batted in. Her RBI-single was the game-winner in the Bears’ 3-2 victory over No. 11 Oklahoma (3/19). Leadoff hitter Christa Gammon led the team in steals with eight in 11 attempts, while Jenna Schwark was MSU’s fourth-leading hitter with a .259 batting average and a team-high nine sacrifice hits. Tyler Porter made 40 starts in the Bears’ outfield and scored 17 runs, good for fourth on the club.
Missouri State was 20-4 when scoring the first run of the game, and 10-1 when scoring a run in the first inning in 2008. That followed a 2007 season in which the Bears were 20-5 when scoring first and 15-3 when tallying a run in the first inning.
So far in 2009, MSU is 11-5 when scoring first, but just 3-6 when plating a run in the first inning. The Bears have outscored the opposition 17-11 in the first inning, but have been outscored 39-20 in the second and third innings.
One And done
Missouri State didn’t experience much luck in one-run games in 2007, as the Bears were 4-9 in such contests. MSU fared slightly better last year, claiming victory in 11 of its 21 one-run affairs to bring their two-year mark to 15-19 in those games.
In their first 27 outings this season, the Bears have already played nine one-run contests, going 4-5 in those games.
KEMPKER tabbed preseason all-MVC
Junior outfielder Brooke Kempker was the Bears’ leading hitter during the conference season in 2008, posting a .327 average at the plate and a team-high .403 on-base percentage in MSU’s 24 MVC contests. One of only four Bears to start every conference game, Kempker’s strong showing came on the heels of a non-conference season that saw her hit just .220 with just nine hits and three runs scored in 22 games.
For her efforts, the Jefferson City, Mo., native was a second-team all-conference pick last spring, and was the Bears’ lone preseason all-league pick this year.
Former Players as Coaches
Seventeen of head coach Holly Hesse’s former players have gone on to become coaches. Those currently coaching at the collegiate level are Annie Medico (head coach-Drury), Tina Kramos (assistant-Illinois State), Dee Keim (assistant-Central Missouri), Melissa Porche (assistant-UNC-Charlotte) and Whitney Peyton (graduate assistant-Central Missouri).
MVC Preseason Poll
The Missouri State softball team was picked to finish sixth in the 2009 Missouri Valley Conference coaches’ preseason poll. Two-time defending regular-season champion Creighton was the overwhelming favorite among coaches, gathering nine first-place votes and 97 points total. Illinois State garnered 85 total points to place second, followed by Southern Illinois (78) and reigning MVC Tournament champ Drake (60), which received one first-place vote. The Bears received 45 points, which was 13 points shy of Wichita State in the fifth spot. Evansville (42), Indiana State (33), Bradley (25) and UNI (24) round out the bottom half of the poll.