Bears Continue Home Stand Thursday Against Wichita State
Missouri State Bears (22-22, 10-10 MVC)
vs. Wichita State Shockers (17-35, 9-13 MVC)
Site: Killian Stadium (1,200)Location: Springfield, Mo.
Radio: KBFL AM 1060 (Art Hains)
Live Stats: MissouriStateBears.comLive Video: Bears Live
With four conference home games left on the schedule, the Missouri State Bears enter the final week of the regular season looking to gain momentum for the postseason with a single game against the Wichita State Shockers Thursday evening, and three contests against the Evansville Purple Aces over the weekend.
The Bears have already ensured themselves of at least a seventh-place regular-season Valley finish. However, they still have some work to do to secure an opening-round bye in the upcoming MVC Championship, which Missouri State will host at Killian Stadium, May 12-14. They'll need a strong close to have a chance to move up into contention for a bye, which will go to the Valley's top four regular-season finishers. Of the Bears' previous five Valley Tournament championship squads, none finished lower than fifth in the regular-season race.
-The Bears have won a combined 16 of their last 21 games against their two opponents this week; MSU has taken seven of its last 10 against Wichita State and nine of its last 11 vs. Evansville
-With two wins at Wichita State April 20, 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 16-2 this season when leading after six innings, but have been out-scored 57-32 after the fifth inning
-Natalie Rose leads the MVC with five saves and ranks second with 209 strikeouts coming into the week; the junior right-hander is fifth on the Bears' career strikeout list with 408 punchouts
-Rose has posted a 65-to-3 strikeout-walk ratio over her last 64.0 innings of work dating back to April 12; in 19 Valley appearances this season, Rose has fanned 98 batters in 102.2 innings pitched while walking just nine
-Rose has held right-handed batters to a .196 (87-of-445) average this year
-Kirstin Cutter ranked sixth in the Valley in stolen bases (13) and 10th in hitting (.339) entering the week
-Ashley Knehans is batting .462 (6-for-13) on the season against left-handers and brings a .417 career average vs. Evansville into this weekend's series
-Knehans is hitting .367 and slugging .517 in MVC play
-Jenna Schwark has recorded four multi-hit performances in her last nine conference games
-The Bears' senior trio of Knehans, Schwark and Gammon combined to go 9-for-20 (.450) with four runs batted-in in MSU's doubleheader sweep of Wichita State on April 20
-Caitlin Chapin and Christa Gammon are hitting .583 and .563, respectively, in their careers vs. Evansville pitching
With their doubleheader sweep of Wichita State on April 20, the Bears improved to 49-42 all time vs. the Shockers. Last season WSU swept the two teams' doubleheader in Springfield, but Missouri State has won four of the last six contests played on their home field in the series.
Against Evansville, MSU holds a 28-20 edge in the series, including wins in three of the four games played by the two teams last year. Since 2007, the Bears have claimed nine of 11 meetings with the Aces.
Scouting the Bears
Missouri State is off to a 22-22 start, including 10 wins in its first 20 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 hitting for much of the season with a .339 average coming into the week. Senior first baseman Ashley Knehans leads the club with 24 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 16-18 record to go along with a 2.27 ERA and a league high of five saves. The Henryetta, Okla., native fanned a career-high 14 hitters in Saturday's 11-inning loss to Drake and ranks second in the conference with 209 strikeouts on the year.
Scouting the Opposition
Wichita State, which was picked to finish eighth in the Valley, enters play this week with a 17-35 overall record and a 9-13 mark in MVC play. WSU returns 11 letterwinners from last year's 22-31 squad that finished seventh in the conference. Leading the way this year has been senior catcher Heather Gerritse, a preseason All-MVC selection who paces the squad with a .367 average. Senior first baseman Jamie Hull, meanwhile, leads the team with 33 RBIs to go along with seven homers and a .338 batting mark, and sophomore infielder Hayley Temple (.317) has started all 52 games for the Shockers. In the circle, sophomore right-hander Katie Armagost has been WSU's most-consistent performer, entering the week with a 7-12 record and 3.88 earned run average, but freshman lefty Sloan Anderson has posted four of her five wins on the year, as well as a 2.98 ERA in conference play.
Evansville comes into the final week of the regular season in the eighth position in the Valley standings with a 12-39 overall mark and a 6-18 mark in league play. The Purple Aces, who were tabbed seventh in the MVC's preseason poll, are led by senior Jen Stahlhut's .342 batting average, four homers and 23 runs batted-in. Junior Amy Gaertner (.263) also has four home runs on the season, as well as 22 RBIs to rank right behind Stahlhut. Freshman Katie Sears leads the team with 11 steals and ranks second on the squad with a .294 average. The Aces have struggled in the circle this season, entering the week with a 6.02 team earned run average. Freshman right-hander Taylor Perry has been UE's most productive starter, going 4-11 with a 4.50 ERA and seven complete games so far.
The Bears Under Holly Hesse
Missouri State head coach Holly Hesse (Creighton, '82) is 591-580-2 (.505) 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.
Rose in Full Bloom
Right-hander Natalie Rose added another chapter to her breakthrough junior season this past week, eclipsing her career high for strikeouts in Saturday's 11-inning loss to Drake. Rose punched-out 14 Bulldogs, surpassing her previous best of 10, which she accomplished on three different occasions.
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 pick up her conference's pitcher of the week award.
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 fanned 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.
The Bears have enjoyed their fair share of success against Evansville pitching in recent years, with five different players bringing career batting averages of .400 or better into this weekend's series. Caitlin Chapin batted .583 and drove in six runs in four games vs. UE last year, while Christa Gammon destroyed Aces pitching in 2010, going 9-for-14 (.643) five runs scored and four RBIs. Additionally, Ashley Knehans has hit two homers, while batting .417 in nine career games against UE. Jenna Schwark (.429) has clubbed three of her 10 home runs as a Bear against the Aces, and Kirstin Cutter went 4-for-9 with a pair of steals last season vs. Evansville.
A Blankety-Blank of a Week
Despite getting strong pitching performances in all three of their outings last week, the Bears dropped each contest to see their losing streak extend to a season-long five games. Furthermore, Missouri State was shut-out in two of the three games and scored just one run on the week. The Bears, who have been out-scored 13-1 over their last 31 innings, have now been held scoreless eight times this season, marking the highest total for MSU since 2008, when they were blanked in 10 of their 22 losses.
After matching a school record for team home runs in a season last year, the Bears have experienced a precipitous drop off in their power numbers in 2011. Missouri State went homerless in its three games last week, extending their long ball dry spell to seven games. The Bears have totaled just 11 homers on the season following 34 round-trippers in 2010 that closed a nine-year stretch in which they accumulated 230 home runs--an average of nearly 26 per season--and posted the top eight single-season team totals in the 43-year history of the program.
What a Cut-Up
Sophomore shortstop Kirstin Cutter enters the week with hits in 15 of the Bears' 20 MVC games this season. The Oklahoma City native is the only Bear to make every start at her position this season and enters the week with hits in four straight games and the 10th-highest batting average (.339) in the league.
By going 0-1 in one-run contests last week, the Bears are now 12-7 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.
Jekyll and Hyde
In their 22 losses this season coming into the week, the Bears were hitting only .184 (101-of-548), 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.
Who Came up With This Schedule, Anyway?
Missouri State played seven games against four ranked opponents through its first 44 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). Indiana, which the Bears defeated 3-2 in eight innings on March 12, cracked the ESPN.com/USA Softball Collegiate Top 25 poll this week for the first time all season, coming in at No. 24. Additionally, two other MSU opponents (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 USA Today/NFCA Top 25, with their last win coming at then-No. 11 OU on March 19, 2008.
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.