Softball Bears set to open MVC Tournament against Evansville



The seventh-seeded Missouri State softball team will take on sixth-seeded Evansville in the first round of the State Farm Missouri Valley Conference Tournament Thursday at Charlotte West Stadium - Rochman Field in Carbondale, Ill. The Bears were swept in a three-game series last weekend by regular-season champ Creighton to conclude the regular season at 25-21 and 11-13 in Valley play.

Missouri State last won the MVC Tournament two years ago in Omaha, defeating Creighton, Illinois State, and Wichita State on its way to a school-record 40 wins. The Bears have won more conference tournament (Gateway and MVC) games than any other conference school, with 57, and MSU is tied with Creighton and Illinois State for the most tournament titles, with five.

The Opponents Missouri State took two of three games from first-round opponent Evansville April 19-20, rebounding to claim a 4-1 win in game two and a 5-3 contest in the series finale after dropping a 3-2 decision in the opener. UE’s Krista Price delivered a one-out, walk-off home run in the bottom of the seventh inning to give the Purple Aces the win in game one. MSU freshman Ashley Knehans belted a two-run homer to stake Melissa Porche to a 2-0 lead in the second game. That would be all the senior right-hander would need, as Porche limited UE to just three hits in the complete-game effort. Porche picked up the win in the series finale as well, working 3 2/3 scoreless innings in relief. Senior Michelle Armentrout’s two-out, two-run home run in the top of the eighth gave the Bears a 5-3 victory. 

The Bears dropped two of three contests to potential second-round opponent Southern Illinois in Springfield (April 26-27). Missouri State won game one, 6-5, on the strength of a stirring two-out rally in the seventh inning. Porche’s two-out single plated two runs and capped the Bears’ comeback from a 5-1 deficit. The Saluikis bounced back with a 5-2 win in game two, thanks in large part to Katie Schmidt’s fourth-inning three-run homer, then took the series with a 4-3 victory in the finale. 

Missouri State took two of three games from Illinois State (March 21-22), the potential semifinal matchup for the Bears. MSU won the series opener, 3-2, before succombing to the Redbirds by an 8-0 score in game two. The Bears exploded for six runs in the fifth inning of game three, getting a three-run double from Armentrout and a two-run homer from junior Jessie Smith to post a 6-0 victory.

In all, the Bears are 8-12 versus this year’s MVC Tournament field.

Series Records Missouri State holds a 23-19 advantage over Evansville in the all-time series and a 2-1 edge in MVC Tournament play against the Purple Aces. The Bears lead the all-time series with Southern Illinois, 39-34, and trail Illinois State, 51-28.

MVC Tournament History Missouri State has experienced great success in the MVC Tournament, winning four times in the 15-year history of the league. The Bears won three straight tournaments from 1996-98 and added their fourth title in 2006. Coach Holly Hesse has been in the dugout for all 13 MSU tournament appearances and has compiled a 30-18 record.

Last season, the Bears dropped their opening round contest to Bradley by a 2-1 score in Normal, Ill. MSU centerfielder Katie Martin singled and scored in the first inning to put the Bears on top early, but BU rallied and took the lead for good when Sara Loete belted her third home run of the season over the left field wall.

In the title game, a three-run first inning was more than enough for Creighton pitcher Tara Oltman, as the freshman hurler went the distance leading the top-seeded Bluejays to the Valley crown with the 6-2 victory over third-seeded Southern Illinois. The championship for the Bluejays was the fifth all-time in the program’s history and the fourth in five seasons. Creighton’s TJ Eadus was named tournament MVP.

Two years ago, MSU swept through the MVC Tournament with wins over host Creighton, regular season champion Illinois State, and Wichita State in the championship to capture the crown. Missouri State committed no errors and allowed no runs en route to the championship, winning all three games by scores of 4-0. Current Bears Melissa Porche, Michelle Armentrout, and Jessie Smith were voted to the all-tournament team.

Tournament Information Live stats will be available for each game of the tournament by going to host Southern Illinois’ website at There will also be live streaming video available for each game, except the championship, for a fee. Saturday’s championship game will be shown live on FSN Midwest at 1:30 Central.

Head Coach Holly Hesse Missouri State head coach Holly Hesse (Creighton, ’82) is 526-500-2 (.512) in her 20th season at Missouri State. Last season, the Bears finished 21-29 overall. 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 only Illinois State’s Melinda Fischer in the MVC and an elite group of 41 active head coaches with 500 Division I wins.

The Missouri State Bears are playing in their 40th season and have an all-time record of 905-736-2 (.551).

Last Week Missouri State was swept in a three-game series by regular-season league champ Creighton in Omaha by scores of 6-1, 4-0 and 1-0. 

Back-to-back Creighton home runs in the fourth inning, including a grand slam broke up a scoreless tie in the first game. Missouri State junior Jessie Smith hit a solo home run in the sixth inning to account for the lone MSU run of the twinbill. The Bluejays answered with a run of their own in the bottom of the sixth to account for the final 6-1 margin.

Sophomore pitcher Lauren McGinley (7-5) allowed eight hits in six innings of work. Smith went 2-for-3 at the plate for the Bears. Senior Melissa Porche’s double and a single by freshman Jenna Schwark were the only other MSU hits against Creighton ace Tara Oltman.

Porche scattered six hits and struck out eight Bluejays in the Bears’ 4-0 shutout loss in game two. Creighton scored a single run in each of the first, second, fourth and sixth innings en route to its 20th (20-3) Valley win. MSU managed five singles against CU starter Amanda Hess and Oltman, who earned her seventh save. Juniors Brooke Kempker and Elysha Swider, senior Michelle Armentrout, and Smith and Schwark all singled for the Bears.

In the series finale on Sunday, Porche (16-15) tossed a one-hitter for the Bears, but that lone hit was a home run by CU’s Michelle Koch to left center in the third for the game’s lone run. Porche struck out 12 Bluejays in her 23rd complete game of the season.

MSU managed three hits against Oltman (31-6), who won her 31st game of the season to become just the second Valley pitcher to reach that mark, equaling the conference record for wins in a single season, previously set by Kellie Belcher of Missouri State in 1994. Two-out singles by juniors Jessie Smith in the first and Kempker in the second preceeded Koch’s game-winner to lead-off the third for the Bluejays.

Bears Among MVC Leaders Several Bears closed the regular season with rankings among the top 10 in Missouri Valley Conference statistical categories this season. Melissa Porche is currently third in saves (6), wins (16), strikeouts (265), appearances (40), starts (28), complete games (23) and innings pitched (213.2), fourth in ERA (1.93) and opponent batting average (.209) and sixth in shutouts (4). Porche’s six saves is good for fifth in the nation, while her 8.6 strikeouts per seven innings ranks 32nd in all of Division I. Michelle Armentrout is sixth in doubles (10), Jessie Smith ranks sixth in triples (2), and Christa Gammon is sixth in steals (8). Both of Smith’s triples came during conference play to place the junior shortstop atop the Valley leaderboard in that category for MVC games only. Additionally, each of Smith’s four homers on the season came during conference play.

In 2007, Brooke Kempker topped the hit by pitch category with 10 and ranks fifth in that same category this season with six.

In team categories Missouri State leads the MVC and is No. 2 in the country in fielding percentage (.981). The Bears also rank second in steals (39), third in ERA (2.68) and strikeouts (313).

In the Record Books Several current players have etched their names into the Missouri State softball record books this season. Melissa Porche’s 40 appearances is just one shy of her career high (set in 2007) and ranks fourth all-time in a single season at MSU. Porche’s 265 strikeouts is No. 2 on the Bears’ single-season list and is just five behind Nora Cagwin’s school record (set in 1999). The senior right-hander has also climbed onto several career top 10 lists. She is tied with Cagwin for the most appearances by a Bears’ pitcher (148), ranks second in innings pitched (723.0), strikeouts (731) and complete games (70), third in wins (57) and games started (96) and fourth in shutouts (19).

Senior third baseman Michelle Armentrout is tied for fourth on the Bears’ career doubles list (34), fourth in RBIs (97) and tied for fifth with 16 homers. Junior Jessie Smith climbed to No. 2 on the home run list with 19, just one shy of Ashley Meredith’s school record.

Powerful Porche Melissa Porche was the Missouri Valley Conference Co-Pitcher of the Week (3/24) after going 3-0 and allowing 11 hits in 21 innings of work. She recorded 26 strikeouts and allowed opponents a mere .157 batting average in three complete games.

She struck out 14 batters and allowed just five hits in MSU’s 3-2 victory over Illinois State March 21. Porche completed the weekend MVC series against the Redbirds with a dominating shutout March 22, allowing just two hits, while striking out 11 batters in a 6-0 MSU win.

Porche won the same award outright the week prior. The MSU senior right-hander pitched the Bears to a 3-2 decision over No. 11 Oklahoma March 19, limiting the Sooners to four hits and one earned run.

Lucky Number 3 Through 46 games this season, the Bears are 21-3 when scoring at least three runs in a game. However, Missouri State is just 4-18 this season when failing to tally three runs in a contest. MSU started the 2008 season 19-1 in such contests and is now 40-6 in games where it scores three or more runs over the last two seasons.

Kempker Heats Up  Junior outfielder Brooke Kempker was the Bears’ leading hitter during the conference season, 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 comes 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.

Nice Glove Work Missouri State ranks second nationally and first in the Valley with a .981 fielding percentage. Texas A&M leads the nation with a .984 fielding percentage. Five Bears (Ashley Arbon, Christa Gammon, Carrie Roberson, Jana Shewmaker and Elysha Swider) have posted perfect (1.000) fielding percentages so far this season.

Porche to the Rescue Melissa Porche is third in the Valley in saves (6), trailing only Wichita State’s Ashley Bright and Creighton’s Tara Oltman, who each have seven for the year. Porche picked up three saves in the Florida Atlantic "Strike Out" Cancer Tournament (Feb. 15-17). She earned her fourth save of the season in the Bears’ 4-1 win over Saint Louis (3/12), her fifth against Indiana State (2/14) and sixth against Wichita State (4/2). She led the country with seven saves as a sophomore in 2006 and is MSU’s career leader in the category with 21.

Porche has struck out 10 or more batters on 11 occasions this season, which ranks second only to Wichita State’s Ashley Bright (16) among all Valley pitchers.

Impact Freshmen -- Missouri State’s freshmen are making a big impact for the Bears in 2008. Ashley Knehans has clubbed a pair of homers, is fourth on the team with 11 runs batted in and her RBI single was the game-winner in the Bears’ 3-2 victory over No. 11 Oklahoma (3/19). Leadoff hitter Christa Gammon leads the team in steals with eight in 11 attempts, while Jenna Schwark is MSU’s fourth-leading hitter with a .266 batting average and a team-high seven sacrifice hits. Tyler Porter has made 37 starts in the Bears’ outfield and scored 15 runs, good for fifth on the club.

Off to the Races Missouri State stole an MVC season-high eight bases in the Bears’ 13-7 win over Saint Louis (3/2). MSU is 39-of-54 in stolen base attempts with freshman Christa Gammon leading the Bears with eight steals in 11 attempts. Junior Jessie Smith, who led the league with 17 stolen bases a year ago, is 7-of-9 so far in 2008.

One-Run Setbacks Missouri State didn’t experience much luck in one-run games in 2007, as the Bears were 4-9 in such contests. MSU faired much better so far in 2008, claiming victory in 10 of its 20 one-run affairs.

Where’s the O? In 16 of pitcher Melissa Porche’s 19 losses last season, MSU was shut out or scored only one run. The Bears have been shut-out in eight of Porche’s starts this season -- 1-0 decisions to Long Island (2/15), Indiana State (2/14), Wichita State (3/25), Drake (3/30), Tulsa (4/23) and Creighton (5/4), a 7-0 loss at UNI (4/13) and a 4-0 setback at Creighton (5/3). Additionally, the Bears have scored just one run in four more of Porche’s starts in 2008.

Early Offense Missouri State is 17-4 when scoring the first run of the game, and 8-1 when scoring a run in the first inning in 2008. The Bears were 20-5 last season when scoring the first run of the game, and 15-3 when tallying a run in the first inning.

MVP for McGinley Sophomore pitcher Lauren McGinley was selected the MVP of the Bears’ season-opening Florida Atlantic "Strike Out" Cancer Tournament (Feb. 15-17) in Boca Raton, Fla. She earned three wins in 11.2 inings of work en route to a 0.77 ERA. The sophomore is now 7-5 on the season with a 4.32 ERA.

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 Katie Martin (student assistant) and Courtney Owens (student assistant) currently at Missouri State; both were members of MSU’s’ 40-win 2006 team.

MVC Preseason Poll The Missouri State softball team was picked to finish fifth in the 2008 Missouri Valley Conference coaches’ preseason poll. Regular-season and MVC tournament-champion Creighton was the overwhelming favorite among coaches, gathering nine first-place votes and 97 points total. Wichita State received the other first-place vote and garnered 85 total points. Southern Illinois (81) and Illinois State (72) were selected third and fourth respectively.The Bears received 52 points, followed by Bradley (46), Evansville (44), Indiana State (35), Drake (25) and UNI (13). 



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