Porche, Smith power softball Bears to MVC Tournament semifinal
Senior pitcher Melissa Porche and junior shortstop Jessie Smith saved their best performances of the season for the opening day of the State Farm Missouri Valley Conference Softball Tournament, as the duo teamed up Thursday (May 8) to help Missouri State post victories over Evansville and Southern Illinois to advance to Friday’s (May 9) semifinal round. The seventh-seeded Bears will take on the No. 2 seed, Illinois State, in a 2:30 p.m. contest at Charlotte West Stadium in Carbondale, Ill.
Smith, who tied the MSU career home run record with her three-run shot to seal the win over Southern Illinois, was the Bears’ offensive catalyst all day, going 6-for-8 at the plate with four runs scored and four RBIs.
Porche also made an imprint in the Bears’ record book, fanning 10 hitters in her two-hit shutout of Southern Illinois to surpass the MSU single-season mark for strikeouts. With her second-inning strikeout of Chelsea Petty, Porche passed Nora Cagwin’s 1999 total of 270, before finishing the night in a tie with Creighton’s Tara Oltman for the eighth-highest single-season total (278) in MVC history.
After seeing a six-run lead slip away in its opening round contest against Evansville, MSU scored two times in the top of the seventh inning to pull out an 8-6 victory over the sixth-seeded Purple Aces. The Bears built a 6-0 lead behind standout offensive performances from Smith and Porche, but Evansville’s bats came alive late in the game, as the Purple Aces erupted for six runs of their own, tying the game on Krista Price’s two-run homer in the bottom of the sixth.
But Missouri State fought back to tally the go-ahead run on freshman Ashley Knehans’ two-out double to right-center field, then added some insurance when Elysha Swider followed with an RBI-double. Smith capped a 4-for-4 effort at the plate by lining a single off UE shortstop Amanda Ockoman to lead off the decisive frame, then scored her third run of the afternoon on Knehans’ double.
Missouri State appeared to seize control of the contest with a two-out rally in the top of the third inning, capitalizing on a UE fielding error to plate three unearned runs. The Bears added to their lead with three more runs in the fifth, highlighted by Porche’s one-out, two-run single to center. Brooke Kempker and Smith started the frame with back-to-back singles, then came home on Porche’s slow-roller that found its way past UE pitcher Jackie Bradley and Ockoman to make it a 6-0 ballgame.
But Evansville would mount its monumental rally to even the score, beginning with Brittany Herald’s three-run homer to center off Porche in the bottom of the fifth inning. The Purple Aces struck for three more runs in the sixth, the last two of which came on Price’s long ball.
Porche, who worked a complete game to earn her 17th victory of the season, also went 3-for-4 at the plate with three RBIs against Evansville.
The Buena Park, Calif., native was just getting started, as her two-hit shutout of the Salukis in the quarterfinal nightcap included a stretch where she retired 16 straight batters. After allowing a pair of two-out singles in the first inning, Porche would not give up another hit in posting her 25th complete game and 12th double-digit strikeout effort of the season.
SIU’s Danielle Glosson was equally effective in the circle through the first four innings. The freshman hurler struck out a career-high 11 batters and allowed just one earned run overall in 6 2/3 innings of work. But the Bears got another key two-out, as Jenna Schwark lined a single to center in the fifth to plate Swider with what would prove to be the winning run.
MSU tacked on four runs in the top of the seventh, highlighted by Smith’s drive that cleared the left field wall. The homer was her 20th as a Bear, matching Ashley Meredith’s school record set in 2004.