Softball Bears Look to Right the Ship Against Evansville this Weekend
Missouri State Bears (22-23, 10-11 MVC)
vs. Evansville Purple Aces (12-39, 6-18 MVC)
Site: Killian Stadium (1,200)Location: Springfield, Mo.
Radio: KBFL AM 1060 (Saturday, game 1)
Live Stats: MissouriStateBears.comLive Video: Bears Live (Saturday)
The Missouri State Bears enter the final weekend of the regular season looking to snap a six-game losing streak and gain momentum for the postseason with three contests against the Evansville Purple Aces on tap at Killian Stadium.
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.
-Missouri State has won a combined 16 of its 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
-Head coach Holly Hesse needs just nine more victories to become the fourth coach in Valley history to reach the 600 career win plateau
-The Bears have won six straight at home in their series with Evansville
-MSU is batting just .190 (110-of 579) in losses this season
-The Bears have been held to one run or less in four straight games for the first time since May 2008 and their six-game losing streak is their longest since February 2010
-Natalie Rose leads the MVC with five saves and 217 strikeouts coming into the weekend; the junior right-hander is fifth on the Bears' career strikeout list with 416 punchouts
-Rose had posted a 65-to-3 strikeout-walk ratio over her previous 64.0 innings of work dating back to April 12 before walking three in Thursday's loss to Wichita State; in 20 Valley appearances this season, Rose has fanned 106 batters in 110.2 innings pitched while walking just 12
-Rose has appeared in all 16 MSU home games this season, posting a 5-8 record and 1.83 ERA in 16 outings
-Kirstin Cutter ranks sixth in the Valley in stolen bases (13) and 10th in hitting (.339) and has a career-long five-game hit streak
-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
-Jenna Schwark clubbed three home runs while hitting .357 against the Purple Aces a year ago
-Caitlin Chapin and Christa Gammon are hitting .583 and .563, respectively, in their careers vs. Evansville pitching
-Raeven Replogle recorded a career-high three hits Thursday and is 4-for-7 in MSU's last two games
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 22-23 start, including 10 wins in its first 21 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 .338 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 16-19 record to go along with a 2.32 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 leads the conference with 217 strikeouts on the year.
Scouting the Opposition
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 591-581-2 (.504) 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 17-2 over their last 39 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 Thursday vs. Wichita State, extending their long ball dry spell to eight 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 weekend with hits in 16 of the Bears' 21 MVC games this season. The Oklahoma City native is the only Bear to make every start at her position this season and enters the series with hits in a career-best five straight games and the 10th-highest batting average (.338) in the league.
Missouri State will honor its four seniors prior to Sunday's regular-season finale and with good reason. The Bears' seniors have each played pivotal roles as regulars since their freshman year of 2008, when MSU charged through the MVC Tournament before coming up just short in their bid for a sixth NCAA Tournament bid. They'll be hoping to finally traverse that hump next week, when Killian Stadium serves host to the 2011 edition of the Valley Championship.
Each has enjoyed a recent offensive resurgence after slow starts to the season. 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.
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.
Who Came up with this Schedule, Anyway?
Missouri State played seven games against four ranked opponents through its first 45 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.