Softball Bears Set to Conclude Road Swing Thursday at Tulsa
Missouri State Bears (22-19)
vs. Tulsa Golden Hurricane (37-12)
Site: Charlotte West Stadium (1,000)Location: Tulsa, Okla.
Live Stats: MissouriStateBears.comLive Video: TulsaHurricane.com
After seeing their seven-game win streak come to an end last Friday at Southern Illinois, the Missouri State Bears will try to get back on track this week with a total of four games against two opponents who have already topped the 30-win mark for the season. The Bears will meet the Tulsa Golden Hurricane Thursday in Tulsa for a single contest that was originally scheduled for Wednesday evening before heavy rainfall pushed it back one day. MSU will then welcome one of the Missouri Valley Conference's co-leaders, the Drake Bulldogs, to Killian Stadium for a three-game series over the weekend.
The Bears come into the week with a 24-15 advantage in their series with Tulsa and a slim 39-37-1 all-time edge against Drake. The Golden Hurricane and Bulldogs combined to take three of four meetings with MSU last season, however.
-Missouri State saw its seven-game win streak come to an end last Friday at Southern Illinois as the Salukis extended their own win streak in the series with MSU to eight games
-The Bears dropped two of three games from Drake last season, as well as their only meeting with Tulsa; the two clubs have taken 11 of their last 14 combined contests from MSU
-With two wins last Wednesday at Wichita State, head coach Holly Hesse now needs just nine more victories to become the fourth coach in Valley history to reach the 600 career win plateau
-The Bears are 16-1 this season when leading after six innings, but have been out-scored 55-31 after the fifth inning
-Natalie Rose leads the MVC with five saves and ranks second with 189 strikeouts; the junior right-hander is fifth on the Bears' career strikeout list with 388 punchouts
-In 17 Valley appearances this season, Rose has fanned 83 batters in 90.0 innings pitched while walking just eight; she has posted a 45-to-1 strikeout-walk ratio over her last 45.1 innings of work
-Kirstin Cutter is sixth in the Valley in both hitting (.342) and stolen bases (12)
-Ashley Knehans climbed into MSU's all-time top five for career home runs with her 16th long ball as a Bear at Bradley (April 16); the senior hit .533 (8-for-15) and slugged .837 the week of April 12-17
-Knehans is batting .455 (5-for-11) against left-handers this season
-The Bears recorded their first two hits of the season with the bases loaded the week of April 12, but are still just 2-for-28 (.071) on the year in those situations
-Tyler Porter saw her eight-game hitting streak come to an end last Friday at SIU, but the senior's career-best streak matched Lauren Eisenreich for the longest such streak by a Bear since 2009
-Porter leads the MVC with 13 sacrifice bunts on the season
-Savannah Wiggins is 6-of-12 (.500) at the plate with runners in scoring position this season
The Bears enter Thursday's contest at Tulsa with a 24-15 edge over the Golden Hurricane despite losing the last four games in the series. TU claimed a 4-3 last year at Killian Stadium and swept a doubleheader from MSU in 2008. In their last trip to Tulsa, the Bears fell by a 6-5 score in 2007.
MSU also holds a narrow 39-37-1 lead in its series with Drake. The Bulldogs have won seven of the last 10 games in the series dating back to 2007.
Scouting the Bears
Missouri State is off to a 22-19 start, including 10 wins in its first 18 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 .342 average coming into the week. Senior first baseman Ashley Knehans leads the club with 23 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 16-16 record and has posted a 2.42 ERA and a league high of five saves.
Scouting the Opposition
Tulsa is off to a 37-12 start and receiving votes in a number of Top 25 polls after returning nine letterwinners from last year's 31-21 squad that finished second in Conference USA. The Golden Hurricane relies on the right arm of freshman Aimee Creger (19-2, 0.95 ERA), whose earned run average ranked seventh in the nation as of April 17. Creger, who has 204 strikeouts in just 148.0 innings pitched, has limited the opposition to a .125 batting average against to help TU post a team 1.80 ERA. At the plate, the Golden Hurricane are led by sophomore outfielder Caitlin Everett, who is hitting .383 with 30 steals on the season. Another sophomore, Samantha Cobb, leads the club with 34 RBIs to go along with a .336 average. As a team, Tulsa comes into the week batting .278 with a +104 run differential on the year.
Drake enters the week tied with Illinois State for the top spot in the MVC standings with a 30-17 overall record and 16 wins in 19 Valley games to date. The Bulldogs brought back nine letterwinners from a team that went 32-22 and finished sixth in the MVC last year. Leading the way for DU has been senior Jenna DeLong (19-5, 2.00 ERA), who paces all Valley pitchers with 200 strikeouts on the year. The right-hander has also excelled at the plate, hitting .293 with 10 homers to share the team lead in the latter category. Junior infielder Torey Craddock, whose 50 hits on the season rank third in the MVC, leads the Bulldogs with a .316 average. Senior catcher Erin Mollohan has also been a driving force for DU, entering play this week with a .302 average and a team-high 32 RBIs.
The Bears Under Holly Hesse
Missouri State head coach Holly Hesse (Creighton, '82) is 591-577-2 (.506) 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.
Feast or Famine
The Bears continued their all-or-nothing pattern in conference road games last week, sweeping Wichita State in a doubleheader last Wednesday before dropping both games at Southern Illinois in their rain-shortened series in Carbondale. All five Missouri State MVC road series this season resulted in a sweep, with MSU claiming all three games at Bradley, as well as two-game sweeps at Indiana State and Wichita State. The Bears, who finished 7-5 on the road in MVC play, lost all three games at Illinois State in addition to Friday's losses at SIU.
With their two wins Wichita State last Wednesday, the Bears climbed five games over the .500 mark for the first time all season. Not only that, but MSU's 22-17 record represented the first time since May 2008 the Bears found themselves five games above .500. The two wins in Wichita gave MSU four straight road victories in the series with the Shockers.
Senior outfielder Tyler Porter saw her career-best eight-game hit streak come to an end Friday at Southern Illinois. The Broken Arrow, Okla., product batted .455 (10-for-22) and scored seven times over the course of the streak to help the Bears go 7-1. Fellow senior Ashley Knehans also saw a career-high hit streak end Friday in game one against the Salukis. Knehans went 11-for-19 (.579) and slugged .875 over her six-game streak that saw the Bears win every outing as part of their seven-game win streak.
On a Roll
With its seven-game win streak April 12-20, Missouri State 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' streak was 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 the week of April 12-17. 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.
Over the course of their seven-game win streak, the Bears batted .335, while MSU's pitching staff 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, April 12-17. Each recorded at least one hit in every game, with Porter scoring a team-high six times over the five-game stretch. Knehans tied a career high for hits in a single game April 12 against UMKC, going 3-for-3 in MSU's 9-1 win. She clubbed her 16th home run as a Bear in MSU's series opener at Bradley (April 16) 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 April 20 after picking up hits in each of the Bears' two wins over Wichita State. The Broken Arrow, Okla., product batted .455 with seven runs scored over the course of her career-best eight-game hit streak.
Fellow seniors Christa Gammon and Jenna Schwark got into the act as well in MSU's sweep of the Shockers. Schwark, who went 3-of-7 against WSU, posted three multi-hit games to go along with five runs scored and three RBIs in five contests the April 16-20. 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 at Wichita State April 20.
As a group, the four MSU seniors batted .407 with 19 runs scored and 15 RBIs during the Bears' seven-game win streak.
Coming up Roses
Junior right-hander Natalie Rose narrowly missed picking up her third Missouri Valley Conference Pitcher of the Week honor April 18. 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 five 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 a 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 a 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 the following day 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 currently leads the MVC in saves (5) and games started (29) while ranking second in strikeouts (189) and innings-pitched (193.2) 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 MSU's series finale at Bradley (April 17), 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 MSU's first game on April 16 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 19 losses this season, the Bears have hit only .188 (87-of-464), compared to .307 (180-of-587) in their 22 victories. After coming into the week of April 12 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.
By going 1-1 in one-run contests last week, the Bears are now 12-6 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 saw MSU out-homer the opposition by a 5-3 margin over the ensuing 13 games.
The Bears posted homers in three straight games, April 16-17, their first such stretch 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 41 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). Additionally, three other MSU opponents (Indiana, Illinois State and Tulsa) are receiving votes in Top 25 polls this week. 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 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.