Softball Bears Look to Lock up MVC Tourney Bid at Bradley
Missouri State Bears (19-21, 8-9 MVC)vs. Bradley Braves (18-26, 9-12 MVC) When: Saturday, May 2 @ 12 p.m. (DH) and May 3 @ 12 p.m.
Where: Laura Bradley Park (Peoria, Ill.) Live Stats: http://www.missouristatebears.com/liveStats/liveStats.dbml?DB_OEM_ID=13800&KEY= Live Audio and Video (Sat. only): http://www.bradleybraves.com/newMediaPlayer/consolewmp.htm?type=vod&id=399180&oemid=3400&KEY=
The Missouri State Bears enter the home stretch of the regular season looking to build on a solid performance last week against three of the top teams on their schedule. After losing yet another contest to the weather Wednesday with the cancellation of their game at Tulsa, the Bears head to Peoria for a three-game set with Bradley (May 2-3) to wrap up Missouri Valley Conference play.
The Bears enter the final weekend of the season still needing two wins to secure the sixth seed in next week’s State Farm Missouri Valley Conference Tournament in East Peoria, Ill. Last week, MSU claimed a pair of victories in five games against three clubs that figure prominently in the 2009 postseason picture. The Bears topped Arkansas in extra innings, dropped a hard-fought decision at Oklahoma State, then claimed one of three games from league-leading Creighton. MSU (8-9) sits alone in sixth place in the MVC race, two games in front of Bradley (9-12) and just one-half game behind Illinois State (10-10) in the fifth spot in the standings. Wichita State (9-13) and Indiana State (9-13) enter the final weekend tied for eighth in the regular-season race. The Valley’s top eight regular-season finishers qualify for the tourney, with host school Bradley already assured a spot in the field.
Follow the Bears
Live stats for all three Bears softball games this week will be available on the Missouri State Athletics official web site, www.missouristatebears.com. Additionally, free live audio and pay-per-view streaming video of Saturday’s doubleheader will be shown (courtesy of www.bubraves.com) on Bears Live (subscription required), which is accessible through missouristatebears.com.
The Bears concluded the home portion of the schedule last weekend by going 1-2 versus Creighton to finish 5-11 at Killian Softball Stadium in its debut season
Missouri State will be looking to secure its fifth straight trip to the State Farm Missouri Valley Conference Tournament and its seventh appearance in the last eight seasons
MSU enters its final road stretch of the season with an 8-6 mark in road games and, including neutral-site contests, a 14-10 overall mark away from home
Junior pitcher Lauren Supak saw her streak of 18 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings come to an end Wednesday at Arkansas; the Colorado Springs native was able to extend her streak of not allowing an earned run to 24 innings before Oklahoma State’s Sam Heinlein greeted her with a home run in a relief appearance on Thursday
Senior shortstop Jessie Smith moved to within one run scored of Kate Madden’s school record last week when she broke her own MSU career home run mark by clubbing her 26th long ball as a Bear versus Oklahoma State
The Bears hold a significant lead in their series with Bradley entering this weekend’s action. MSU owns a 41-19 overall lead in the series with the Braves. Last year, MSU swept a three-game set from BU in Springfield.
Scouting thE Braves
Picked to finish ninth in the MVC race in 2009, Bradley had dropped 12 of its previous 13 contests before sweeping a doubleheader from Indiana State on Wednesday to enter the final weekend of the regular season 18-26 overall and 9-12 in MVC play after a strong start that saw them above the .500 mark for most of the first two months of the season. BU brings back 14 letterwinners from last year’s team that won only 12 games en route to a last-place conference finish. New head coach Amy Hayes does have one of The Valley’s all-time great strikeout pitchers in senior Ashley Birdsong, who leads the Braves in the circle with a 12-10 record and 1.83 earned run average. She ranks fifth in the league this season with 181 punch-outs in 161.0 innings pitched and became the fifth MVC pitcher to reach the 800 career strikeout plateau last weekend. This year alone, Birdsong has fanned at least 10 batters on seven different occasions. At the plate, senior first baseman Alycia Bachkora is one of the conference’s top power threats, entering the weekend tied for the league lead with seven home runs in MVC play. Last week alone, Bachkora homered in three consecutive games to push her season total to eight to accompany her team-high 28 RBIs. Junior outfielder Janay Mitchell (.276) and senior shortstop Miriam Wegmann come into the weekend with the top batting averages (.264) on a squad that is hitting just .217 as a team this season.
Bears under Holly Hesse
Missouri State head coach Holly Hesse (Creighton, ’82) is 548-522-2 (.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.
Senior shortstop Jessie Smith not only leads the Bears in most nearly every offensive category, she also ranks as one of the toughest players to strike out in all of Division I softball. The Blue Springs, Mo., native leads The Valley and ranks 18th nationally, fanning just five times through her first 122 at-bats this season. Against Creighton on Saturday, Smith went down on strikes in the first inning of the second game of the Bears and Jays’ doubleheader, ending her streak of consecutive games without a strikeout at 16, a span of 52 at-bats dating back to March 21. In all, she has gone down on strikes just two times in 38 MVC at-bats in 2009.
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 (26), slugging percentage (.552) and total bases (321), while also moved into second place on MSU’s career runs scored list (122). She needs just one more run to reach Kate Madden’s all-time mark of 123. Additionally, Smith’s homer at Oklahoma State on April 23 moved her into the 13th spot on The Valley’s career home run list. She needs one more long ball to catch CU’s TJ Eadus in the No. 12 position on the chart.
Despite stopping a seven-game home losing streak with a pair of wins the week of April 14-20 and defeating league-leading Creighton on the final home weekend of the season, the Bears’ offense never really got untracked in its first season at Killian Softball Stadium. MSU batted .233 as a team and has hit just six of its 18 home runs on the season at home. Bears pitchers have found their new park to be even more inhospitable, having registered a 3.35 earned run average in 16 games at Killian compared to a 2.17 ERA in 24 outings away from home. However, MSU junior pitcher Lauren Supak experienced few troubles in her new park, as the right-hander posted a 1.95 ERA in 11 home appearances. The Colorado Springs product saw her streak of 17.1 straight scoreless innings at home end when Creighton scored in the top of the first inning on April 25.
MSU’s 5-11 mark at Killian this season represents its worst home mark since the 2001 season, when the Bears won just three of 17 home dates. Conversely, the Bears’ 8-6 road mark and 6-4 record in neutral-field contests this year are its best since the 2006 squad went 12-9 in true road games and 23-13 overall away from home.
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 9-9 with a 1.69 ERA, 11 complete games and six shutouts over the Bears’ last 18 games. McGinley has turned in four of her five shutouts during that span, while Supak has posted four complete games in her last five starts and 10 consecutive starts of at least 5 2/3 innings.
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 five weeks, MSU has seen 11 of its last 34 games wiped out due to inhospitable conditions. The Bears have lost seven conference games, including their entire series with Drake and two of their three games with last-place Evansville.
Despite playing just four home games over a four-week stretch from March 20-April 18, the Bears discovered something that worked over their lengthy stay on the road. MSU has compiled a 9-5 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 3.6 runs per game despite hitting only .231 as a team. Junior Lauren McGinley has spearheaded the Bears’ effort in the circle, going 6-4 with a 1.50 ERA during the same 14-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.
One and Done
Three of the Bears’ four losses the week of April 6-12 were one-run setbacks. Missouri State dropped 4-3 and 3-2 decisions to UMKC (April 8), and then fell by a 1-0 score at Southern Illinois on April 11. Additionally, MSU defeated Wichita State, 4-0 on April 15 to stop a string of four consecutive one-run home losses.
In their first 40 outings this season, the Bears have played 16 one-run contests, going 8-8 in those games.
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).
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.
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.
On The Board
Several Bears rank among the Missouri Valley Conference leaders through games of April 27. Jessie Smith’s .393 batting average is the third-highest in the league, while her .656 slugging percentage and 12 stolen bases both rank second in the MVC. Sophomore Christa Gammon’s three sacrifice flies are tied for the second-highest total in the conference. In the circle, Lauren Supak’s 1.94 earned run average is the seventh-best mark in the MVC, while Lauren McGinley’s five shutouts are fourth in the circuit.
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 .968 fielding percentage, good for second in the MVC.
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.
MSU is 15-7 when scoring first, but just 5-8 when plating a run in the first inning in 2009. The Bears have outscored the opposition 29-15 in the first inning, but have been outscored 45-24 in the second and third innings.
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.
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.
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.