Softball Bears Return Home to Face Creighton in Key Valley Series
Missouri State Bears (14-15, 4-4 MVC)
vs. Creighton Bluejays (14-16, 4-2 MVC)
Site: Killian Stadium (1,200)Location: Springfield, Mo.
Live Stats: MissouriStateBears.comLive Video: Bears Live (Sunday only)
After stopping a four-game losing streak with a win at Arkansas Wednesday, the Missouri State Bears return home to resume Missouri Valley Conference play this weekend with a three-game set against the Creighton Bluejays. The Bears and Jays will kick-off the series at Killian Stadium with a doubleheader at noon Saturday before squaring off in a single game Sunday, also at noon.
The Bears suffered their seventh loss of the season vs. a ranked opponent Tuesday evening against Oklahoma State in Stillwater, falling 10-2 in six innings. MSU bounced back with a 2-1 win over Arkansas in Fayetteville Wednesday, however, as Natalie Rose tossed a complete-game, one-hitter to earn her ninth win of the season.
The Bears, who swept Creighton in a three-game series last year in Omaha, will be shooting for their fifth win in their last six games against the Jays in Saturday's series opener. CU still holds a commanding 44-26 lead in the series.
-The Bears have won five of their last six MVC home games dating back to last May
-After yielding no more than two earned runs in 11 of their previous 15 games, MSU pitchers have allowed 24 earned runs in their last five outings
-Tyler Porter is hitting a team-high .429 in MVC play with hits in each of her last six conference games
-Natalie Rose led the MVC in both saves (4) and strikeouts (130) coming into the weekend; the junior right-hander is fifth on the Bears' career strikeout list with 329 punchouts
-Kirstin Cutter ranks fourth in the Valley in hitting (.360) entering this weekend's action and has at least one hit in 15 of her last 21 games
-Ashley Knehans clubbed her first home run of the season last Sunday at Illinois State and the 15th of her MSU career; she needs one more long ball to climb into the school's career top 5
-Bears hitters are 0-for-19 this season with the bases loaded
-The Bears are 10-1 in games in which they have out-hit the opposition
-MSU is 9-4 in one-run contests this year following Wednesday's 2-1 win at Arkansas
-The Bears are 13-2 this year when entering the sixth inning leading or tied with the opposition
-Missouri State pinch hitters are batting .116 (5-of-43) this season
-Madison Hargrove has recorded hits in each of her last six games after going hitless in 18 at-bats over a 12-game stretch
-Caitlin Chapin has at least one hit in six of MSU's eight MVC games and is batting .333 with 4 RBIs in conference play
Creighton has dominated its series with Missouri State, entering the weekend with a 44-26 all-time edge vs. the Bears. MSU earned its first-ever road sweep of CU last April in Omaha, and has taken four of the last five meetings overall dating back to 2009. The Jays took two out of three from the Bears two years ago in their first-ever trip to Killian Stadium.
Scouting the Bears
Missouri State is off to a 14-15 start, including four wins in its first eight Missouri Valley Conference outings after being tabbed fifth in the league's preseason poll. The Bears 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.
Scouting the Bluejays
Creighton comes into the week 14-16 and 4-2 in the Valley after being charged with the task of replacing all but three regular starters, as well as three-time MVC Pitcher of the Year Tara Oltman, off last year's 37-23 squad that won the MVC Tournament title and advanced to the school's 12th NCAA tourney appearance. Helping fill the void has been sophomore catcher Amy Baker, who leads the MVC in both home runs (13) and RBIs (25) entering the week. She gets help from freshman outfielder Ellen Homan, who has started every game so far and paces the team with a .322 average. Finally, junior outfielder Christa Ruf gives the Bluejays a solid second power bat, entering the week with eight long balls and 24 runs batted-in. In the circle, freshman Becca Changstrom has been solid in her first collegiate campaign, leading the club with a 10-7 mark and 1.93 ERA. The right-hander has struck-out 108 batters in 105.0 innings while holding the opposition to post a mere .164 batting average.
Bears Under Holly Hesse
Missouri State head coach Holly Hesse (Creighton, '82) is 583-573-2 (.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.
Bears, Park Board to Host Free Clinic Sunday
Registration forms for the softball clinics can be downloaded via the PDF link above. For more information on the clinics, contact the Springfield-Greene County Park Board at 417-864-1049.
The Bears were swept in a three-game Valley series for the first time since May 2009 last weekend at Illinois State. The Redbirds out-scored the Bears 20-4, marking MSU's worst run differential in an MVC series since March 2009, when UNI out-scored the Bears 34-14 over three games at Killian Stadium.
Illinois State clubbed five home runs in last Saturday's doubleheader sweep to open the weekend, but Ashley Knehans recorded the only long ball in Sunday's finale with her second-inning two-run shot. Knehans homer was her first of the season and just the seventh for MSU on the year, in contrast to 24 for the opposition. Sunday represented just the second time all season the Bears have out-homered an opponent.
Injury Bug Bites Bears
Over the last two weekends the Bears have been without the services of five regular starters at one point or another due to injury or illness. Starting second baseman Christa Gammon did not even travel with the team to Indiana State (March 26-27) due to sickness, and catcher Madison Hargrove missed the final game of that series, as well as all three games with Illinois State (April 2-3) with a concussion. In addition to outfielder Stevie Pierce (hand), who has been sidelined since March 16, the Bears were without centerfielder Tyler Porter (illness) for Sunday's game against the Redbirds, and third baseman Jenna Schwark had to come out of the finale in the fourth inning due to a hand injury. All but Pierce have returned to action this week in the Bears' midweek outings against Oklahoma State and Arkansas.
Off and Running
By taking two of three games from UNI, March 19-20, 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.
Additionally, Missouri State started 4-1 in Valley play, marking its best conference start since beginning the 2006 season with 10 consecutive victories. That year, the Bears went 18-4 in MVC play to finish second before capturing the Valley Tournament title and advancing to the school's fifth NCAA Tournament.
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 29 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 24-7 on the year.
Coming up Roses
For the second time in three weeks, junior softball player Natalie Rose has been named Missouri Valley Conference Pitcher of the Week, the league office announced March 28. Rose, who earned the same honor for the first time in her career on March 14, posted her team-leading seventh and eight wins of the season in leading the Bears to a two-game sweep of Indiana State, March 26-27.
Rose went 2-1 without allowing a single earned run over 20.0 innings spanning three appearances. The right-hander posted both Missouri State wins over Indiana State to help the Bears sweep the Sycamores for the third straight year and finished the week with an impressive 19 to 1 strikeout-walk ratio. The Henryetta, Okla., native started the week with a complete-game setback against 18th-ranked Oklahoma State in which she struck-out eight batters before falling 1-0 when the Cowgirls pushed an unearned run across the plate in the eighth inning. She bounced back Saturday by going the distance once again with a four-hitter against ISU, allowing just a single unearned run. Finally, Rose ran her streak of consecutive outings without allowing an earned run to six with a 6-1 decision over the Sycamores, tossing five scoreless innings of three-hit ball.
Rose leads the MVC in both saves (4) and strikeouts (130). Through her first 26 outings this season, she has posted a 2.54 earned run average over 129.1 innings of work and has completed 13 of her 20 starts.
Knehans Joins Century Club
Senior first baseman Ashley Knehans became the 36th Bear to record 100 career hits by going 2-for-3 in MSU's MVC opener against UNI (March 19). Knehans joined fellow seniors Jenna Schwark and Christa Gammon, who each notched their 100th hits last season.
Who Came up with this Schedule, Anyway?
Missouri State has played seven games against four ranked opponents through its first 29 contests of the season. In those seven outings, the Bears have been out-hit 62-21 and out-scored 44-4 in going 0-7 against No. 13 Texas (twice), No. 18 Missouri, No. 10 Oklahoma (twice) and No. 21 Oklahoma State (twice). The Bears now have a 15-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.
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 five Missouri State softball games this week will be available on the Missouri State Athletics web site at missouristatebears.com.
Select MSU softball games, including this Sunday's series finale with Creighotn, 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.