Softball Bears Set to Begin Quest for MVC Title Thursday at Bradley
No. 7 Missouri State Bears (19-24, 8-12 MVC)vs. No. 6 Bradley Braves (21-26, 12-12 MVC) What: State Farm MVC Softball Championship (Opening Round) When: Thursday, May 7 @ 1:30 p.m. Where: EastSide Centre (East Peoria, Ill.) Tournament Web Site: MVC Championship Central Live Stats: http://www.missouristatebears.com/liveStats/liveStats.dbml?DB_OEM_ID=13800&KEY= Live Video: MVC TV
The Missouri State Bears will make their 25th appearance in the single-elimination State Farm Missouri Valley Conference Softball Championship this week in East Peoria, Ill. After wrapping up regular-season play with a 19-24 overall mark and 8-12 Valley record, the Bears enter the tourney as the No. 7 seed and will square off against the sixth-seeded Bradley Braves (21-26, 12-12 MVC) in Thursday’s opening round at 1:30 p.m. A quarterfinal match-up against No. 3 UNI (34-21, 15-11 MVC) awaits the winner at 6:30 p.m., Thursday.
Missouri State was swept in a three-game series by the same Bradley squad last weekend in Peoria to close out the conference season. The Bears enter the tournament on a four-game losing streak, while the Braves have won five straight.
Follow the Bears
Live stats for all MSU games at the MVC Championship will be available on the Missouri State Athletics official web site, www.missouristatebears.com. Additionally, live streaming video of all tournament games except the championship on Saturday will be carried on MVC TV (subscription required), which is available on The Valley’s website, www.mvc-sports.com.
Saturday’s title game will once again be carried live on Fox Sports Midwest and Fox Sports Kansas City. R.C. McBride and Laura Leonard will describe the action.
Tournament quick hits
Senior shortstop Jessie Smith batted .538 (7-for-13) in last year’s Valley championship; the two-time all-tourney honoree (2006, 2008) has hit .478 (11-for-23) in eight career games at the MVC Tournament
Missouri State has amassed more wins (60) than any other Valley team at the MVC Championship; the Bears--along with Creighton and Illinois State--have won the most titles (5) than any other team in the 27-year history of the event, and also have more two- (6) and three-time (3) all-tourney honorees; with a total of 36 MVC all-tournament selections, the Bears are the second-most decorated team (to Creighton’s 38 citations) in terms of total individual honors
Despite a 5-11 mark at home in 2009, the Bears have been solid away from Killian Softball Stadium, going 14-13 in road- and neutral-field games
The Bears are the tourney’s No. 7 seed, the same slot from which they made their run to the championship game in 2008 by defeating two of the meet’s top three seeds in a two-day span in Carbondale
The Bears enter the tournament with an all-time mark of 60-37 in 24 previous entries, including a 38-27 record and four titles in 18 appearances under head coach Holly Hesse.
Despite being swept in their three-game series with the Braves last weekend, the Bears still hold a significant 41-22 lead in the series with Bradley. In head-to-head meetings at the MVC Championship, the Bears have a 6-4 edge over the Braves, but have dropped two straight-a 2-1 decision in 2007, and a 2-0 contest in 2000.
UNI also took all three meetings with MSU earlier this season and enters the tournament just one-game under .500 (34-33) all-time against the Bears. MSU has claimed seven of the nine tourney meetings between the two schools. Should the two meet on Thursday, it would be their first match-up in the tournament since 1999, when UNI claimed a 2-0 ballgame in Wichita.
Scouting thE Braves
Picked to finish ninth in the MVC race in 2009, Bradley had dropped 12 of its previous 13 contests before catching fire last week to go 5-0 en route to wrapping up a sixth-place conference finish, its best since 1995. New head coach Amy Hayes has one of The Valley’s all-time great strikeout pitchers in senior Ashley Birdsong, who leads the Braves in the circle with a 15-10 record and 1.77 earned run average. She ranks fifth in the league this season with 193 punch-outs in 182.0 innings pitched and became the fifth MVC pitcher to reach the 800 career strikeout plateau earlier this season. At the plate, senior first baseman Alycia Bachkora is one of the conference’s top power threats, finishing the regular season atop the league leader board with eight home runs in MVC play. The Overland Park, Kan., native has hit a school-record nine long balls in all to accompany her team-high 31 RBIs. Junior outfielder Janay Mitchell (.307) and senior shortstop Miriam Wegmann come into the tourney with the top batting averages (.277) on a squad that hit just .223 as a team during the regular season.
Scouting thE Panthers
The Panthers were one of the biggest surprises in The Valley during the regular season, finishing with a school-record 15 wins in conference play and 34 wins overall after being picked 10th in the league’s preseason poll. As a team, UNI has been the top offensive club in the MVC in 2009, finishing the regular season with league-best marks for batting average (.276), slugging percentage (.434), runs scored (269), hits (425), RBIs (243), triples (11) and home runs (52). Junior outfielder Rachel Gerking has turned in perhaps the best offensive performance of any Valley player in 2009. Gerking led the conference in total bases (113) and broke the MVC’s single-season RBI (58) record over the final weekend of the regular season. She also finished among the league’s top 10 in home runs (11), doubles (14), hits (66), runs (29), slugging percentage (.628) and batting average (.367). Fellow junior outfielder Megan Machovec has enjoyed a breakout year as well, posting MVC-bests for hits (69) and triples (6), while ranking ninth in hitting (.356) and second in runs scored (41). The middle of the Panthers’ lineup also features two more of the top power threats in the conference in Jen Larsen and Kelly Papesh. Larsen hit nine homers, drove in 38 runs and totaled 53 hits, while Papesh’s 12 home runs led the MVC. In the circle, Larsen’s 2.00 earned-run average was the seventh-best in the MVC during the regular season, while her 18 wins ranked third. The junior tossed eight shutouts and turned in 23 complete games.
Bears under Holly Hesse
Missouri State head coach Holly Hesse (Creighton, ’82) is 548-525-2 (.511) 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.
“O” Where Oh Where Have You Gone?
After being shut out just once in their first 31 games this season (3/8 vs. Missouri), the Bears have been blanked five times in their last 12 contests. MSU has scored just 14 runs during that span while batting .197 as a team.
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 17th nationally, fanning just five times through her first 131 at-bats this season. Against Creighton on April 25, 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 went down on strikes just two times in 56 MVC at-bats in 2009.
Climbing the Charts
With her senior season winding down, shortstop Jessie Smith keeps adding to her list of accomplishments as a Bear. The Blue Springs, Mo., native broke or tied four Missouri State career records with one swing of the bat versus Bradley on Saturday. Smith equaled Kate Madden’s school record for career runs scored (123) in the Bears’ 5-3 loss to the Braves in game one of their series in Peoria when she blasted a two-run, game-tying home run in the fourth inning. Her 27th long ball as a Bear broke her own school record and also added to her MSU all-time marks for total bases (328) and slugging percentage (.556). Smith will play in her 200th consecutive game as a Bear--all as a starter-- in Thursday’s tourney opener.
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’ 8-9 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 9-12 with a 2.08 ERA, 11 complete games and six shutouts over the Bears’ last 21 games. McGinley has turned in four of her five shutouts, while Supak has posted four complete games in her last six starts and 10 starts of at least 5 2/3 innings during that span.
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 saw 11 of its last 37 games wiped out due to inhospitable conditions. The Bears lost seven conference games to weather, 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 compiled a 9-8 record away from Killian Softball Stadium since Feb. 27.
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 third contest to go 13 innings or more in MSU history in a game that took three hours and nine minutes to complete, just one minute short of the longest game on record in the 41-year history of the program. It matched a March 24, 1992 game against Louisiana-Lafayette for the second-longest game on record at Missouri State. The longest contest for a Missouri State team came in the championship game of the 1994 Valley Tournament, when Drake outlasted the Bears, 3-2, in a 14-inning game in Springfield.
The Bears’ marathon with Iowa State represented 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 43 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 represented the second-highest single-game total in school history. The Bears recorded 41 putouts in a 14-inning contest against Drake on May 14, 1994.
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 during the regular season. Jessie Smith’s .389 batting average was the third-highest in the league, while her .656 slugging percentage and 12 stolen bases both ranked second in the MVC. Christa Gammon and Ashley Knehans both totaled three sacrifice flies to tie for second in the conference. In the circle, Lauren Supak’s 2.17 earned run average was the ninth-best mark in the MVC, while Lauren McGinley’s five shutouts were 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.
MSU has posted a .967 fielding percentage this season, good for fourth in the MVC and 48th nationally.
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 29-18 in the first inning, but have been outscored 48-25 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.
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.