Bears Conclude Road Swing with Key Valley Series at Southern Illinois
Missouri State Bears (22-17, 10-6 MVC)
vs. Southern Illinois Salukis (29-13, 11-3 MVC)
Site: Charlotte West Stadium (502)Location: Carbondale, Ill.
Live Stats: MissouriStateBears.comLive Video: SIUSalukis.com
After sweeping a doubleheader from Wichita State Wednesday to run their win streak to seven games, the Missouri State Bears will wrap up an eight-game road trip with a three-game series versus the Southern Illinois Salukis in Carbondale, Friday and Saturday. This weekend's action will mark the Bears final Missouri Valley Conference road games of the season.
MSU got a pair of standout performances in the circle to claim both games with the Shockers, notching a 5-3 victory in the first game before rallying with two runs in the top of the seventh for a 2-1 win in the nightcap. Natalie Rose picked up her sixth consecutive victory with a complete-game effort in the opener and closed out the second game by recording the final two outs for her fifth save of the year. Savannah Wiggins worked a solid 6.1 innings, holding WSU to just one run on six hits to earn her sixth win as a Bear.
The Bears also got the job done at the plate, pounding out 11 hits in the first game, keyed by 3-for-4 efforts from both Ashley Knehans and Kirstin Cutter. Stevie Pierce tied up the second game with a one-out triple in her first at-bat back from a hand injury, and Christa Gammon drove in the game-winner two pitches later.
Missouri State enters the weekend in search of its first win over Southern Illinois since the 2008 MVC Tournament. The Salukis have taken the last six meetings, including four last season, and have won seven of the last 10 games since 2007.
-The Bears batted .336 as a team and out-scored their five opponents by a 34-9 margin last week
-With two wins Wednesday at Wichita State, head coach Holly Hesse now needs just nine more victories to become just the fourth coach in Valley history to reach the 600 career win plateau
-Missouri State has dropped six consecutive games in its series with SIU, including both meetings with the Salukis two years ago in their last trip to Charlotte West Stadium
-The Bears are 19-3 this year when entering the sixth inning leading or tied with the opposition
-Natalie Rose earned all five Missouri State wins in the circle last week, posting a 25-to-1 strikeout-walk ratio and a 0.82 ERA over 25.2 innings pitched before picking up another win and a save in the Bears' doubleheader sweep of Wichita State Wednesday
-Rose leads the MVC with five saves and ranks second with 180 strikeouts; the junior right-hander is fifth on the Bears' career strikeout list with 379 punchouts
-Kirstin Cutter posted a pair of two-hit games last week and has a team-high 10 multi-hit contests on the season after Wednesday's 3-for-4 effort in game one of MSU's doubleheader with Wichita State
-Ashley Knehans climbed into MSU's all-time top five for career home runs with her 16th long ball as a Bear last Saturday at Bradley; the senior hit .533 (8-for-15) and slugged .837 last week
-The Bears recorded their first two hits of the season with the bases loaded last week, but are still just 2-for-28 (.071) on the year
-Lauren Eisenreich saw her career-best eight-game hit streak come to an end Sunday at Bradley; the sophomore batted .500 (11-for-22) with two home runs and seven runs batted-in over the streak, which represents the longest by a Bear since Jessie Smith's 12-gamer in February 2009
-Tyler Porter matched Eisenreich's hit streak Wednesday, picking up safeties in both ends of MSU's doubleheader at Wichita to stretch her hit streak to a career-best eight games
-Porter led the Bears with a .538 (7-for-13) batting average and six runs scored last week; she also recorded her first stolen bases of the season, going 3-for-3 in steal attempts vs. Bradley over the weekend
-Jenna Schwark has recorded two hits in three of her last five games, going 7-for-16 (.438) with five runs scored and three runs batted-in
The Bears have lost six straight games, to the Salukis, including all four meetings a year ago. MSU does still hold a slim 40-38 advantage in the series with SIU coming into the weekend, but SIU has taken seven of the last 10 meetings since 2007, including three of four games in Carbondale.
Scouting The Bears
Missouri State is off to a 22-17 start, including 10 wins in its first 16 Missouri Valley Conference outings after being tabbed fifth in the league's preseason poll. The Bears, who have dropped seven 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. So far this season, sophomore Kirstin Cutter has paced the MSU attack, ranking among the MVC's leaders in hitter for much of the season with a .355 average coming into the weekend. Senior first baseman Ashley Knehans leads the club with 22 RBIs and ranks fifth all-time at Missouri State in career homers with 16.
In the circle, junior right-hander Natalie Rose has carried the load once again after finishing 2010 with six consecutive complete games during the Bears' critical run through the MVC Tournament. This year, Rose has a 16-14 record and has posted a 2.31 ERA and a league- high of five saves. The Henryetta, Okla., native comes into the weekend with victories in six of the Bears' seven games on their current win streak.
Scouting The Opposition
Preseason MVC co-favorite and defending regular-season champ Southern Illinois hasn't disappointed the prognosticators, coming into this weekend's action 29-13 overall and 11-3 in the Valley. SIU, which saw its nine-game win streak come to an end Wednesday brings back 12 letterwinners from last season's 38-20 squad that defeated the Bears all four times the two teams played in 2010. Keying the Saluki attack is junior outfielder Mallory Duran, who was hitting .385 with 11 stolen bases entering the week. Like Duran, junior shortstop Haley Gorman has made every start this year for SIU, coming into Wednesday's action with a .300 average, nine steals and 23 RBIs. Sophomore Morgan Barchan's .359 average ranked fifth in the Valley, while freshman Taylor Orsburn led the club with 32 RBIs to go along with seven home runs entering play Wednesday. Finally, senior utility Cristina Trapani has heated up as of late to enter the week with six homers and 31 runs batted-in, and freshman Jayna Spivey led all Salukis with eight long balls through Sunday's action. The SIU pitching staff, which had compiled a 3.22 ERA to rank fourth in the Valley, is led by senior right-hander Danielle Glosson, who came into the week with a league-high 17 wins against eight losses and a 2.25 ERA.
Bears Under Holly Hesse
Missouri State head coach Holly Hesse (Creighton, '82) is 591-575-2 (.507) 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.
On A Roll
With wins in its last seven games, Missouri State has established not just a season high for consecutive wins, but their longest win streak in five years. The last time the Bears posted at least seven straight victories came during their last MVC championship season of 2006, when they won 10 games in-a-row. The Bears' current streak is just their eighth stretch of five or more consecutive wins over the last decade.
The Bears broke out of an eight-game batting slump by hitting .336 (44-of-131) in five games last week. What's more, Missouri State scored at least five runs in all but one of those outings after failing to tally more than three runs in each of its previous eight contests. Additionally, the Bears registered their first two hits of the season with the bases loaded after going hitless in their first 24 at-bats in those situations.
On their current seven-game winning streak, the Bears are batting .335, while MSU's pitching staff has posted a 1.64 earned run average.
Missouri State seniors Ashley Knehans and Tyler Porter combined to bat .536 (15-of-28) while slugging .714 to power the Bears' perfect 5-0 week. Each recorded at least one hit in every game last week, with Porter scoring a team-high six times over the five-game stretch . Knehans tied a career high for hits in a single game last Tuesday against UMKC, going 3-for-3 in MSU's 9-1 win. She clubbed her 16th home run as a Bear in Saturday's series opener at Bradley to highlight MSU's three-run first inning that paved the way to a 10-1 rout and eventual series sweep. In all, the duo scored nine runs and drove in six while also playing perfect defense in 36 chances in the field.
Porter extended her career-best hit streak to eight games Wednesday after picking up hits in each of the Bears' two wins over Wichita State. The Broken Arrow, Okla., product is hitting .455 with seven runs scored over the course of her hit streak.
Fellow seniors Christa Gammon and Jenna Schwark got into the act as well in MSU's Wednesday sweep. Schwark, who went 3-of-7 against the Shockers, now has three multi-hit games to go along with five runs scored and three RBIs in her last five contests. Gammon, meanwhile, was 3-of-6 at the plate with a pair of runs batted-in, including the game-winner in the seventh inning of game two.
As a group, the four MSU seniors are batting .407 with 19 runs scored and 15 RBIs during the Bears' current win streak.
Coming Up Roses
Junior right-hander Natalie Rose narrowly missed picking up her third Missouri Valley Conference Pitcher of the Week honor Monday. The league's panel of experts instead awarded the honor to Drake's Jenna DeLong, who became the Bulldogs' career strikeout leader in the midst of a 3-0 week. As a result, Rose--who also earned the same honor on both March 14 and March 28--likely became the first pitcher in the history of mankind to post five victories, a 0.82 ERA and a 25-to-1 strikeout-walk ratio in a given week and not be named her conference's pitcher of the week.
Rose pitched the Bears to their longest win streak in three years, allowing a mere three earned runs in 25.2 innings pitched. The Henryetta, Okla., product pitched all five innings of the Bears' 9-1 win over UMKC in the opening game of last Tuesday's doubleheader, then came back in relief in the second contest to earn the win in MSU's 5-4, come-from-behind victory. In all, she gave up just three hits while registering 10 strikeouts over 7.1 innings on the day. The MVC's strikeout leader, Rose matched a season high by fanning nine Bradley Braves in Saturday's series-opening, 10-1 MSU win, scattering nine hits and allowing just one run in the second of her three complete-game efforts of the week. She came back Sunday with 4.1 innings of shutout ball in a 7-2 win in the first game of a doubleheader before working her 18th complete-game of the year to earn the 3-1 victory in the nightcap.
Rose leads the MVC in saves (5) and games started (28) while ranking second in strikeouts (180) and innings-pitched (181.2) and third in wins (16).
Eisey On The Prize
Sophomore outfielder Lauren Eisenreich saw her career-long hit eight-game hit streak come to an end in Sunday's series finale at Bradley, but not before she had posted the longest such streak for a Bear in over two years. Her three-run shot in the third inning of Sunday's first game handed the Bears a 7-0 lead, all but clinching MSU's fourth win in as many games. The Blue Springs, Mo., native's recent tear concluded with a .500 (11-for-22) performance at the plate, including two home runs and seven runs batted-in over the eight-game stretch.
Jekyll And Hyde
In their 17 losses this season, the Bears have hit only .188 (77-of-409), compared to .307 (180-of-587) in their 22 victories. After coming into last week with a .215 batting average with runners in scoring position on the season, MSU promptly went a combined 17-for-44 (.386) in its five wins against UMKC and Bradley.
With their 2-1 win over Wichita State in game two of Wednesday's doubleheader, the Bears improved to 12-5 on the season in such affairs. That mark offers a substantial improvement over MSU's record in one-run games over the previous two years, as the Bears went just 14-20 in those outings in 2009 and 2010.
Illinois State battered Missouri State pitching for five home runs in their April 2 doubleheader sweep of the Bears, but Ashley Knehans recorded the only long ball in MSU's series finale (April 3) with her second-inning two-run shot. That clout ushered in a stretch that has seen MSU out-homer the opposition by a 5-3 margin over the ensuing 13 games.
The Bears homered in three straight games, April 16-17, marking the first time they have achieved the feat since last season, when they went deep in four straight games, May 8-13. The school record for home runs in consecutive contests also came in 2010, as MSU clubbed a total of 11 homers in seven successive games from March 26-April 3.
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.
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 39 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. 18/21 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.
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 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.