The Missouri State softball team will wrap up its regular season schedule with a three-game series at 22nd-ranked Illinois State this weekend. The Redbirds, currently third in the MVC at 15-7-1, can finish anywhere from second to fourth in the final standings, while the Bears can finish as high as fifth. Both teams are assured of berths in next weekend’s MVC Tournament in Normal. Live stats of the weekend’s games can be found here. To listen to the Illinois State radio broadcast, click here.
The opponents Illinois State is 39-14-1 after a 6-2 loss at Eastern Illinois on Tuesday. The Redbirds took two of three from #21 Southern Illinois last weekend in Normal to knock the Salukis out of first place.
The Redbirds are led offensively by freshman Kara Nelson, who is second in the MVC with a .417 batting average. Nelson leads the MVC with 78 hits and 55 runs scored. Reigning MVC Newcomer of the Year Amber Smith is hitting .338 with 15 home runs, 38 RBIs, and owns an MVC-best .675 slugging percentage. Senior Kelsey Warning and Smith share the league home run lead with 15 apiece, and Warning is atop the MVC with 50 RBIs.
Seniors Shannon Nicholson and Stacy Birk form one of the MVC’s best duos on the mound. Nicholson is 18-5 with a 1.62 ERA and has 99 strikeouts in 151.2 innings. Birk is 18-8 with a 2.28 ERA and has 144 strikeouts in 181 innings. Birk has pitched 17 complete games with six shutouts, while Nicholson has 10 complete games and four shutouts. Birk leads the MVC with four saves and Nicholson is second with her 1.62 ERA.
Illinois State defeated the Bears twice last year in a rain-shortened series to conclude the regular season, clinching the conference title. Missouri State avenged the two regular season losses with a 4-0 victory in the semifinals of the conference tournament in Omaha en route to the tourney title.
Series records With Illinois State taking two of three games last season from Missouri State, the Redbirds extended their advantage in the all-time series to 47-26. This weekend’s matchup will pair two of the winningest coaches in the NCAA and the MVC. Illinois State’s Melinda Fischer and Missouri State’s Holly Hesse are two of only 41 active coaches with 500 Division I victories. Fischer has 751 career victories, while Hesse has won 501.
Coach Holly Hesse Missouri State head coach Holly Hesse (Creighton, ’82) is 501-475-2 (.514) in her 19th season at Missouri State. Hesse picked up her 500th career victory in a 1-0 win over Indiana State on April 22, joining only Illinois State’s Melinda Fischer in the Valley with 500 Division I wins. Only 41 active coaches have won 500 Division I games. Last season, Hesse led the Bears to a school-record 40 wins and a berth in the NCAA Tournament. 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. Last year’s second place MVC finish marked the 12th time during her tenure the Bears have finished in the top-five of the conference standings. Last season 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.
The Missouri State Bears are playing in their 39th season and have an all-time record of 880-711-2.
Last Week The Missouri State softball team lost two of three to Drake in the Bears’ home finale last weekend. The Bears took the opener, 8-0 in five innings, but fell 5-3 in the nightcap Saturday and 6-4 in nine innings in the rubber match on Sunday.
Missouri State jumped on the Bulldogs for six runs in the first two innings and cruised to the 8-0 decision in the opener. Michelle Armentrout was 2-for-3 with a home run and three RBIs to lead the offensive attack. Starting pitcher Melissa Porche was also 2-for-3 and Elysha Swider added a solo homer. All but one of the Bears’ starting nine scored a run. On the mound, Porche pitched her eighth shutout of the season, holding the Bulldogs to two hits in five innings.
Drake used a three-run second inning to take control in game two and never surrendered the lead. Marilyn Buss was 2-for-2 with two RBIs and a run scored to pace the Bulldog offense. Leadoff hitter Jessie Smith was a bright spot for Missouri State, going 3-for-3 with an RBI, run scored, and stole her MVC-leading 16th base. Porche took the loss on the mound for the Bears, allowing three earned runs on six hits in four innings. Freshman Megan Ramsey threw three innings in relief, allowing a run on five hits.
In the series finale Sunday, Missouri State scored two runs in the third and fourth innings to take a 4-0 lead, but Drake rallied to score three in the sixth to force extra innings and then plated two in the ninth for the victory. Smith continued her hot streak with two hits, including her team-leading seventh homer, two RBIs and two runs in the contest. Porche added her fourth homer of the season for Missouri State, but allowed six runs on 15 hits in 8.2 innings of mound work to suffer the loss, dropping to 16-16 on the season.
Martin Honored On April 27, senior outfielder Katie Martin was announced as one of ten finalists for the Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award. She had previously been named as one of 20 semifinalists for the award. Martin was nominated for the honor based on her performance on the diamond as well as her personal character and achievements in the classroom and community. Martin is the softball representative for Missouri State’s Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC) and has been active in MSU softball’s fundraising and community service efforts throughout her four years.
The winner is selected through fan balloting in conjunction with votes by coaches, media and various sponsors after the field is narrowed to 10 finalists later this month. The winner will be announced during the 2007 NCAA Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City, Okla.
Also, on April 12, Martin was selected as the Prairie Farms/Missouri Valley Conference Female Scholar-Athlete of the Week for her performance during the period of April 2-8.
The centerfielder hit safely in all three MSU games during the stretch, as the Bears defeated Wichita State and split with UNI. She connected for a walk-off double -- her third of MSU’s five hits in the game -- in the bottom of the 11th inning to drive in the only run in Missouri State’s triumph over WSU. She also had a hit and two runs scored in the Bears’ win over UNI. Martin has a 3.93 cumulative grade-point average in medical technology.
Smith shares award Sophomore shortstop Jessie Smith was named as the MVC Co-Player of the Week on Monday, after leading the Bears’ offensive attack last weekend. Smith was 6-for-10 and hit for the cycle during the weekend with three singles, a double, triple, and home run as Missouri State dropped two of three to the Bulldogs. Smith shared the award with Illinois State’s Amber Smith.
Smith stole her MVC-leading 16th base of the season in game two of the Saturday doubleheader. The Blue Springs, Mo., native posted impressive 1.200 slugging and .615 on-base percentages during the weekend. Her home run in Sunday’s game moved her into fifth place on Missouri State’s career homers list, with 15.
500-Win Club With a 1-0 victory over Indiana State on April 22, Missouri State head coach Holly Hesse joined Illinois State’s Melinda Fischer as the only coaches in the Valley with 500 Division I victories. Only 41 active Division I coaches have accomplished the feat. Hesse’ s 500th victory came in her 19th season and 975th game.
Bears among MVC Leaders Several Bears rank among the top 10 in Missouri Valley Conference statistical categories. Pitcher Melissa Porche is second in innings pitched (211.1) and games started (32), fourth in strikeouts (205), fifth in appearances (38), and seventh in earned-run average (2.12) and wins (16).
Jessie Smith and Katie Martin are one-two in the league with 16 and 15 stolen bases, respectively. Brooke Kempker has been beaned nine times, which ranks atop the hit-by-pitch category. Martin is also tied for fifth with 27 walks and is eighth with a .432 on-base percentage. Jen Carr’s perfect fielding percentage is tied atop the category, and she is one of only four players to be errorless with over 100 fielding chances.
As a team, Missouri State is third in the conference with a .971 fielding percentage, which ranks 28th nationally. The Bears are also tied for 2nd in the Valley with 57 stolen bases.
Lineup change After being shut out in game one of a three-game series with Evansville (3/31), coach Holly Hesse made a lineup change placing sophomore Jessie Smith in the leadoff spot and leading hitter Katie Martin in the ninth spot. The move worked to perfection, as the Bears scored nine and six runs to win the final two games of the series. Smith had a two-run home run in each game, Martin hit a three-run homer in the series finale, and new cleanup hitter Brooke Kempker added four RBIs for the Bears.
Martin relocated to the second spot in the lineup for MSU’s game against Wichita State (4/4) and responded with a walk-off double in the 11th inning of the Bears’ 1-0 victory. Martin has remained in the second spot ever since, and has hit .378 in 13 games since moving from the leadoff role. Missouri State is 8-5 since Smith assumed the role of leadoff batter, and the shortstop has tallied 15 hits, 12 runs, four doubles, three triples, and three homers in that time.
Powerful Porche Missouri State junior pitcher Melissa Porche led the country last season with seven saves and pitched 16 complete games as a starter, as she went 17-8 with a 2.17 ERA. So far this season, Porche is 16-16 with a 2.12 ERA in 211.1 innings of work. She is currently second in the MVC in innings pitched and games started (32) and is fourth with 205 strikeouts.
The Buena Park, Calif., native pitched a no-hitter in the championship game of the Central Arkansas Lead-Off Tournament against host UCA, as the Bears captured the tournament title with a 6-0 victory. The righthander struck out 11 in the game and 33 during the tournament as she went 3-0 and was voted to the all-tournament team. She also threw a complete game one-hitter against Central Arkansas (2/10) in the teams’ first meeting.
In a 6-0 win over UMKC (3/7), the hurler picked up her fourth complete game shutout of the season, allowing only three hits. Porche suffered two tough-luck losses against Creighton in the opening weekend of MVC play (3/7-3/8), dropping games of 1-0 and 2-0 to the Bluejays after pitching nine-inning complete games in each contest. In both contests, the Bluejays scored in the ninth inning and the Bears could not provide Porche any run support. During the weekend, Porche passed the 100-strikeout mark for the third consecutive season.
Porche tied a season high with 13 strikeouts in game two of a doubleheader against Kansas (3/28), but again suffered the loss after the Bears were shut out. Porche was 2-1 as the Bears won an MVC series with Evansville (3/31 & 4/1), and during the weekend set a new career high in strikeouts, passing her total of 141 from last season.
Her 11-inning complete game shutout against Wichita State (4/4) was her longest outing of the season as she evened her record at 12-12. Porche had a 20-inning scoreless streak broke in a loss to UNI (4/6) and picked up her first save of the season against the Panthers the following day (4/7) in a 10-8 Bears’ victory. Porche picked up both MSU victories over Indiana State last weekend, including her 21st complete game and seventh shutout in the Bears’ 1-0 win in the rubber match Sunday.
Last weekend, Porche passed the 200-strikeout mark with nine K’s in Sunday’s 6-4 loss to Drake. She is currently tied for third on Missouri State’s single-season charts with her 32 starts and is tied for fifth with 38 appearances. Her 449 career strikeouts rank third and her 15 shutouts are fourth on the MSU career charts.
New position, same Results Two of Missouri State’s returning all-conference selections from last season have made position changes in 2007. First Team All-MVC selection Jessie Smith moved from right field to shortstop and Katie Martin relocated from left field to center field. The new positions have not changed the duo’s offensive production, as the two have led the Bears’ offensive attack so far this season.
Smith and Martin are two of only three Bears to have started every game this season. The pair have made easy transitions to their new positions as Smith and Martin have posted .980 and .984 fielding percentages, respectively. Smith leads the team with 79 assists and has shown great range and a strong arm. Martin has made multiple highlight-reel plays, including a fully-extended diving catch for the final out of the Bears’ 5-1 victory over North Dakota State (3/13).
One-TWO Punch With the recent lineup change, Smith and Martin are now hitting in the first and second spots in the lineup, respectively. Both are hitting over .345 since the change and they are one-two in nearly every offensive statistical category, including sharing the team lead with 29 runs. Smith and Martin are also the top two base stealers in the MVC, with 16 and 15 steals, respectively.
Martin leads the team with 43 hits, nine doubles, and 27 walks. She also leads the Bears with a .319 batting average, .432 on-base percentage, and has a team-best 13 multi-hit games. Martin’s 15 stolen bases are second-most in the Valley, her 27 base on balls are tied for fifth, and her .432 OBP ranks eighth. The senior from Baldwin City, Kan., was the offensive star in the Bears’ 7-0 victory over Stephen F. Austin (2/23), going 2-for-3 with a second-inning grand slam and a sixth-inning RBI double. Martin also launched a solo homer in both games of the SLU Cancer Center Classic (3/4), in a win against Southeast Missouri State and a loss to Saint Louis. In game two of a doubleheader against UMKC (3/7), Martin was 2-for-2 and reached base four times, stole three bases, and scored two runs. The senior was again the hero in a 1-0, 11-inning victory over Wichita State (4/4) as she hit a walk-off double to score Smith.
Smith leads the Bears with seven home runs, three triples, 24 RBIs, and 76 total bases. The Blue Springs, Mo., native has 16 stolen bases this season to lead the MVC, and has posted a team-best .547 slugging percentage and seven multi-RBI games. The shortstop is second on the Bears’ squad behind Martin with 41 hits, eight doubles, and 18 walks. Smith hit a home run in consecutive games against Evansville (3/31 & 4/1) after moving to the leadoff spot in the lineup. The sophomore’s 3-for-4 performance against Southern Illinois in game one of a doubleheader (4/15) extended her hit streak to seven games, the longest of the season on the team. The steak was snapped in game two of the twinbill. Smith had three hits, including a pair of two-run homers, and scored three runs in Missouri State’s 20-4 victory over Arkansas-Pine Bluff (2/11) at the Central Arkansas Lead-Off Tournament.
Fab Four Frosh Missouri State has four freshmen on its roster, and each has played a significant role this season. The foursome has accounted for 128 starts through 46 games this season.
Lauren McGinley is one of three Bears to have started every game this season, with 42 coming at first base and three on the mound. The Oklahoma City, Okla., native has 11 hits with six RBIs and three runs scored. McGinley held a perfect fielding percentage until she committed an error against UNI (4/6), but the first baseman is still 225 of 228 (.987) in fielding chances this season.
Jodie Shead has started 29 games and played in 37, including 27 starting assignments in left field. A graduate of softball powerhouse Lafayette High in Wildwood, Mo., Shead is tied for second on the team with four sacrifice bunts. For the season, she has 19 hits, four doubles, eight runs scored, and six RBIs. Shead has three multi-hit games and hit safely in five straight games earlier this season.
Dusti Foster has started all but two games this season for the Bears at second base, picking up ten hits, three doubles, nine runs, and 13 total bases. The Stroud, Okla., native has two multi-hit games, including a 2-for-3 performance with an RBI single and run scored in game two of a doubleheader against North Dakota State (3/13). Foster’s two-run go-ahead double was part of an eight-run sixth inning in the Bears’ 10-8 win over Northern Iowa (4/7).
Pitcher Megan Ramsey has started 10 games and appeared in 23 contests, and has a 5-6 record. The Ottawa, Kan., native has emerged as the number two starter for the Bears and owns a 3.54 ERA with 49 strikeouts in 79 innings. Ramsey threw consecutive complete game three-hitters against UMKC and North Dakota State earlier this season. Her first collegiate shutout came against UMKC (3/7) in a 6-0 Bears win. Ramsey picked up the win in relief in the Bears’ 10-8 victory over Northern Iowa (4/7).
Backstop combo The Bears will utilize two catchers throughout the season with sophomore Jen Carr and junior Lacie Ballard. So far this season, Ballard has started 23 games behind the plate, while Carr has been the starter in 22 contests.
A native of Lomita, Calif., Carr has no errors in 145 fielding chances, which are the fourth-most chances without an error in the MVC. She leads the team with five sacrifice bunts. She hit her first career home run, a two-run shot, against Southeast Missouri State (3/4) in a 10-4 MSU victory. Carr has also started two games as the designated hitter.
Ballard has 18 hits, five doubles, a triple, and six RBIs this season. The St. Louis, Mo., native is fourth on the team with 18 runs scored. Ballard’s five doubles tie for fourth on the team and she has four multi-hit games this season. The junior has also made eight starts as the designated hitter. Behind the plate, Ballard has thrown out nine runners on the base paths.
Armentrout returns Junior third baseman Michelle Armentrout returned to the Bears’ lineup against UMKC (3/7) following a nine-game absence due to an injury. The Broken Arrow, Okla., native had a hit and RBI in both games against the Kangaroos. In 36 starts this season, Armentrout has a .260 batting average with 27 hits, five doubles, a triple, four home runs, and 19 RBIs. She is third on the team with 19 RBIs and is tied for third with 27 hits, four homers, and 46 total bases. Her .442 slugging percentage and .260 batting average are also third-best on the squad Armentrout was the star in the Bears’ 6-4 victory over Indiana State (4/21), going 2-for-3 with a two-run homer and two-run double.
Armentrout was named to the season-opening UCA Lead-Off Classic all-tournament team, as she was 8-for-15 with two doubles, a triple, a home run, and five RBIs in the five games. In the season opener against Jackson State (2/10), the junior hit a three-run triple to account for all the scoring as the Bears won 3-2.
Shewmaker shines While filling in for the injured Michelle Armentrout at third base from Feb. 25 through Mar. 4, Jana Shewmaker provided the Bears with an offensive spark. The junior from Buffalo, Mo., hit .360 with nine hits, 13 RBIs, and 16 total bases in the nine games she started during this time. Making her first starts of the season at third base at the Holiday Inn Select Tulsa Festival, Shewmaker led the Bears with nine RBIs and a .455 batting average in the tournament. She went 3-for-4 with five RBIs in the Bears’ 14-6 victory over Eastern Illinois (2/24). The third baseman also led the team with 11 assists in the tournament, as she earned all-tournament honors. Shewmaker also led the Bears with four RBIs in their 10-4 victory over Southeast Missouri State (3/4), which included a two-run double and her first homer as a Bear, a two-run blast.
Since Armentrout’s return, Shewmaker has been primarily used as the team’s designated hitter. While starting only 27 games this season, Shewmaker is tied for fourth on the team with 17 RBIs. She is hitting .244 and has accumulated 20 hits, four doubles, a triple, and 29 total bases. She had a team-high three RBIs, including a double and two-run single, in MSU’s 10-8 victory over Northern Iowa (4/7).
Bean Ball Brooke Kempker leads the Valley in a category she’d rather not-- hit by pitch. The sophomore outfielder from Jefferson City, Mo., has been hit nine times this season in 114 plate appearances. She had been hit in seven of her first 34 appearances. Kempker, who has started 35 games and played in 39, ranks second on the team with a .393 on-base percentage, third with 12 walks, fourth with a .256 batting average, and fifth with 23 hits and 31 total bases.
Kempker was the hero of the Bears’ 1-0 victory over Indiana State Sunday, as she hit her first career home run to account for the only scoring in the contest. In game two of a doubleheader with Evansville (3/31), Kempker set a career high with four RBIs as she ripped a pair of two-run doubles to lead the Bears to a 9-1 victory.
Roberson responds Junior Carrie Roberson made her first start of the season in game two of a doubleheader against Bradley (3/25) and responded with an RBI single in the second inning of the Bears’ 3-1 victory. Roberson has appeared in 30 games as a sub and is typically the first player off the bench, used mainly in a pinch runner role.
One-run Setbacks Missouri State has not experienced much luck in one-run games this season, as the Bears are 4-7 in games decided by one run. However, the Bears have won their last three games decided by a lone run, a 1-0, 11-inning victory over Wichita State (4/4), a 4-3 triumph over Southern Illinois (4/15), and a 1-0 decision at Indiana State (4/22). MSU has lost by scores of 2-1 to Centenary (2/18), 3-2 to Eastern Illinois (2/25), 6-5 to Tulsa (2/25), 1-0 to Oklahoma State (2/28), 3-2 to Saint Louis (3/4), 1-0 to Creighton (3/17) and 1-0 to Bradley (3/25). The Bears’ other one-run victory came in the season opener, a 3-2 win over Jackson State (2/10).
No Run Support In 13 of pitcher Melissa Porche’s 16 losses, MSU has been shut out or scored only one run.
Early Offense The Bears are 20-4 this season when scoring the first run of the game, and 15-2 when tallying a run in the first inning. On the contrast, MSU is 1-21 when their opponent scores first, including an 1-11 mark when the opposition scores in the first inning. Missouri State won their only game when an opponent scored first on April 7 when the Bears rallied from a two-run Northern Iowa opening frame to take a 10-8 victory.
Hit or Miss The recipe for a Missouri State victory this season has been simple: outhit the opponent. When the Bears outhit their oppositions, they are 15-0. However, when opponents surpass MSU’s hit total in a game, the Bears are 3-22. MSU is 3-3 this season when hits are even.
Lucky Number 3 Through 46 games this season, the Bears are 19-3 when scoring at least three runs in a game. However, Missouri State is 2-22 this season when failing to tally three runs in a contest. MSU has gone against the trend in its last two games, scoring three and four runs, respectively, but falling in both contests to Drake. In addition, the Bears are 17-3 when leading after the third inning, but 1-18 when trailing after the third frame.
IN the Record Books Several current players have etched their names into the Missouri State softball record books. With a homer in last Sunday’s game, Jessie Smith moved into fifth place on the career homers list, with 15. Junior pitcher Melissa Porche is currently tied for third on Missouri State’s single-season charts with her 32 starts and is tied for fifth with 38 appearances. Her 449 career strikeouts rank third and her 15 shutouts are fourth on the MSU career charts.
Last season, Jessie Smith scored 40 runs and hit eight home runs to rank third for a single season in each category. Her 87 total bases were also sixth-most all-time. Michelle Armentrout recorded 138 assists from third base last season to rank fifth in a single season. Her 31 RBIs are also 10th-most all-time. Smith and pitcher Melissa Porche both recorded perfect fielding percentages last season to tie atop the category. Porche also recorded a perfect fielding percentage in 2005, as did catcher Lacie Ballard.
Former Players as Coaches Fourteen of 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), Sara Cole (assistant- Evansville), and Deanna Keim (graduate assistant- Central Missouri). Also included are Samantha Fleeman (volunteer assistant) and Shannon Buslepp (student assistant) currently at Missouri State; both were members of last year’s 40-win team.
MVC Preseason Poll The Missouri State softball team was picked to finish fourth in the Missouri Valley Conference preseason coaches poll. The Bears accumulated 57 points, finishing behind Wichita State (71 points), Southern Illinois (83 points), and preseason favorite and defending regular season champion Illinois State (86 points). Creighton was picked fifth, followed by Indiana State, Bradley, Drake, Evansville, and Northern Iowa. Senior centerfielder Katie Martin, junior pitcher Melissa Porche, and sophomore shortstop Jessie Smith were all-MVC selections a season ago. Smith was only the second freshman in school history to be named to the first team, while Martin and Porche were second-team picks. However, no Bears were selected to the 2007 MVC preseason all-conference team.