Bears Look to End Dry Spell at Home Against Wichita State
Missouri State Bears (15-18, 5-7 MVC)vs. Wichita State Shockers (16-24, 6-9 MVC) When: Wednesday, April 15 @ 6 p.m.
Where: Killian Softball Stadium (Springfield, Mo.) Live Stats: http://www.missouristatebears.com/liveStats/liveStats.dbml?DB_OEM_ID=13800&KEY= Live Video: http://www.missouristatebears.com/ViewArticle.dbml?DB_OEM_ID=13800&KEY=&ATCLID=1384186
The Missouri State Bears will have four opportunities this week to snap a home losing streak that extends back to March 14. The Bears will host a pair of Missouri Valley Conference foes, beginning with Wichita State’s visit for a single game Wednesday (April 15), and culminating in a three-game set with Evansville, Saturday and Sunday.
This week could be a pivotal one for the Bears in terms of the MVC race. MSU enters Wednesday’s match-up with the Shockers in seventh place in the league standings, just one-half game ahead of WSU. At 5-7 in conference play, the Bears are only a half-game behind Illinois State (6-7) in the sixth spot and trail Bradley (6-6) at No. 5 by just one full game. Next month’s State Farm MVC Tournament in East Peoria, Ill., will feature the top eight finishers in the regular-season race.
Missouri State is just 2-9 at Killian Softball Stadium in 2009, and has not won at home since defeating Saint Louis on March 8
The Bears have dropped five straight games for the second time in the last month; they will be looking to avoid their first six-game skid since ending the 2007 season with six straight losses
In three previous games against Wichita State this season, Missouri State pitching has limited the Shockers to a .197 team batting average and just seven runs; MSU pitchers Natalie Rose and Lauren Supak have each turned in complete-game victories against WSU
Senior shortstop Jessie Smith went just 1-for-9 last week to fall out of the lead in the MVC batting race, but still ranks second to Indiana State’s Katie Armour with a .406 average entering the week
Junior pitcher Lauren Supak ranks 10th in the conference with a 1.52 ERA in MVC play
Follow the Bears
Live stats for all four Bears softball games this week will be available on the Missouri State Athletics official web site, www.missouristatebears.com. Additionally, live streaming video of both Wednesday's contest and the first game of Saturday's doubleheader will be shown on Bears Live (subscription required), which is accessible through missouristatebears.com.
The Bears hold leads in their series with both opponents this week. MSU enters the week with a 46-40 edge in the series with the Shockers after taking two of the first three meetings of the season between the two clubs. MSU claimed a 3-1 win on February 21 at the North Texas Sleep Inn Classic in Denton, Texas, before splitting a doubleheader with WSU on March 26 in Wichita. Missouri State, which leads its series with Evansville 24-19, took three of four games from the Purple Aces last year, including an 8-6 win in the opening round of the MVC Tournament.
Scouting thE SHOCKERS
Wichita State entered the week as one of the Missouri Valley Conference’s top offensive teams, ranking second in batting average (.281), slugging percentage (.405), runs scored (181) and hits (297), while leading the circuit with a .375 team on-base percentage. A trio of performers have led the way for the 16-24 club at the plate; sophomore Heather Gerritse is second on the team with a .358 batting average to go along with 24 RBIs; junior Kara L’Huillier is hitting a team-high .369 with seven homers, and her 12 doubles pace the MVC while her 32 RBIs rank second in the circuit; sophomore Kiersten Dixon has matched L’Huillier’s home run total to share the team lead, while her 26 runs scored leads the club. In the circle, however, WSU has struggled, posting a league-worst 4.15 earned run average through its first 40 contests. Freshman Kasha Kolb entered the week 10-17 with a 3.69 ERA, despite recording the third-highest strikeout total (144) in the Valley. Sophomore Brianna Smet is the Shockers’ No. 2 starter and she, along with Kolb, shares the MVC lead in saves (2) coming into the week.
Scouting the Purple Aces
Coming off a 25-21 season and sixth-place MVC finish, the Purple Aces return six regular starters from last year’s club. Junior catcher Krista Price is UE’s top offensive threat, coming into the week with a club-best .364 batting mark, as well as team highs of seven homers, 12 doubles and 23 runs scored. The MVC’s reining stolen base leader, Price also has swiped a team-leading six bags so far this season. Freshman two-way threat Kylie Wagner has also played a pivotal role for the Purple Aces so far in 2009. The left-hander comes into the week with a 5-13 record and 3.31 earned run average in the circle, as well as the club’s second-best batting average of .337. The Orange, Calif., native has clubbed four home runs and driven in 18 runs in just 86 at-bats. Sophomore outfielder Jennifer Stahlhut and senior shortstop Amanda Ockomon are the only two Purple Aces to have started all 35 games so far, posting .328 and .295 batting averages, respectively. Stahlhut enters the week among the league leaders in hits (40), while Ockomon has matched Price for the team lead in stolen bases (6). Senior third baseman Lissa Fehlman’s 21 RBIs leads the club, and her 13 runs and eight doubles both rank third on the team. In the circle, junior Jennifer McKee has gone 5-10 with a 3.31 ERA, posting nine complete games in her 16 starts in 2009.
Bears under Holly Hesse
Missouri State head coach Holly Hesse (Creighton, ’82) is 544-519-2 (.512) 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.
The Bears continue to struggle to find wins in their new home, Killian Softball Stadium. After dropping a twin bill to UMKC last Wednesday, MSU has now lost seven straight home games, dating back to its MVC-opening setback to UNI on March 14. The Bears are batting .243 as a team and have hit just five of their 16 home runs on the season at Killian. MSU pitchers have found their new park to be even more inhospitable, having registered a 4.17 earned run average in their first 11 games at Killian compared to a 2.18 ERA in 22 outings away from home.
One and Done
Three of the Bears’ four losses last week were one-run setbacks. Missouri State dropped 4-3 and 3-2 decisions to UMKC, and then fell by a 1-0 score at Southern Illinois on Saturday. Additionally, MSU has lost four consecutive home games by just one run. In their first 33 outings this season, the Bears have played 13 one-run contests, going 5-8 in those games.
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 4-6 with a 1.88 ERA, six complete games and a pair of shutouts over the Bears’ last 10 games. McGinley has worked into at least the sixth inning in seven of her last eight starts, while Supak has posted five consecutive starts of 5 2/3 inning or more.
Missouri State’s offense has hit a midseason rough patch that has seen the Bears hit just .192 in going 2-6 in its last eight games. Over that same stretch, MSU has scored more than three runs just one time, a 5-0 win at Wichita State on March 26.
The Bears have found the proposition of even getting a game in to be quite difficult as of late. After losing just three total games to weather over the season’s first seven weeks, MSU has seen eight of its last 15 games wiped out due to inhospitable conditions.
Climbing the Charts
Jessie Smith has continued her assault on the Missouri State record book in recent weeks, moving up the charts in several offensive categories. Most notably, Smith has bested her own career marks in home runs (25), slugging percentage (.555) and total bases (311), while also moved into second place on MSU’s career runs scored list (119). She needs just four more runs to reach Kate Madden’s all-time mark of 123. Additionally, Smith’s homer against Wichita State on March 26 moved her into a tie for 12th on The Valley’s career home run list, matching four others.
Despite playing just two home games since March 19, the Bears have discovered something that works over their lengthy road stretch, compiling an 8-4 record away from Killian Softball Stadium since Feb. 27. MSU pitchers have been especially tough over that period, registering a 2.01 earned run average and four shutouts to compliment an efficient, yet inconsistent offense that has generated 3.8 runs per game despite hitting only .225 as a team. Junior Lauren McGinley has spearheaded the Bears’ effort in the circle, going 6-3 with a 1.19 ERA during the same 12-game stretch.
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.
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 .966 fielding percentage, good for second in the MVC.
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 14 long balls in its last 24 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.
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 12-6 when scoring first, but just 3-7 when plating a run in the first inning. The Bears have outscored the opposition 23-11 in the first inning, but have been outscored 43-23 in the second and third innings.
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 became 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.
KEMPKER tabbed preseason all-MVC
Senior 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.