Bears Advance to MVC Championship Game with 4-2 Win Over ISU
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Missouri State (28-23) used timely hitting and got another stellar pitching performance from Natalie Rose to keep its Missouri Valley Conference Tournament momentum going Friday in the semifinals with a 4-2 victory over top-seeded Illinois State.
The fifth-seeded Bears got on the board first with an RBI sacrifice bunt by Stevie Pierce in the top of the third. After Tyler Porter led the inning off with a single to left-center, Raeven Replogle sacrificed her to second and set the stage for a single to left by Ashley Knehans. With runners on the corners, Pierce squeezed home Porter, officially scored a sacrifice fielder's choice, to make it 1-0.
Illinois State starter Jordan Birch then settled in to end the threat and went on to retire the next seven MSU batters.
The regular-season champion Redbirds evened the score with a two-out rally in the bottom of the fourth as Sara Bradley, Nichelle Harrison and Jhavon Hamilton put together three straight hits to plate the tying run. The rally ended a career-long 23-inning scoreless streak by Rose who threw 17 scoreless innings to start the tournament.
Missouri State later retaliated with a single tally in the top of the fifth to regain the advantage. A two-out single by Knehans was followed by a walk to Pierce, setting the stage for a clutch single to right by Heather Duckworth to make it a 2-1 game.
The Bears tacked on an insurance tally in the top of the sixth. With two outs, Kirstin Kutter popped a single to left and then stole second with Tyler Porter at the plate. Porter tapped a one-hopper back to the circle that should have ended the inning, but ISU pitcher Jordan Birch handcuffed her first baseman Elizabeth Kay with the ensuing throw, and the short-hop throwing error allowed Porter to reach. Cutter, hussling out the play, slid in safely at home to make it 3-0.
Knehans made the Redbirds pay for the error moments later. After ISU reliever Megan Warner hit Replogle, Knehans smacked her third single of the afternoon to left field to score Porter from second and make it 4-1.
Illinois State (35-17) collected a second run in the bottom of the seventh after a leadoff triple set the stage for a one-out RBI by Kara Nelson. But Rose slammed the door by retiring the next two, including a game-ending strikeout of Abby Olson, Rose's ninth of the game.
The Bears finished with seven hits, including three by Knehans, and left 10 runners on base in advancing to the MVC Championship game for the first time since 2008.
Illinois State scattered eight hits, including three by Harrison who had the only extra-base hit of the game.
Coach Holly Hesse's squad will play the winner of Friday's 2:30 p.m. semifinal between No. 2 Drake and No. 3 Southern Illinois in the MVC Tournament title game Saturday at noon at Killian Softball Stadium. The winner receives an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
MSU is seeking its first postseason berth in five years.
Tickets for Saturday's finale are available at the Killian Softball Stadium ticket office and are $10 for adults and $5 for students.