DES MOINES, Iowa -- Behind another standout pitching effort from Natalie Rose, the Missouri State softball team kept its quest for an unprecedented sixth Missouri Valley Conference tournament title alive with a 6-1 victory over Illinois State Friday evening at Buel Field. Rose held the league’s highest scoring team to just one run on six hits in completing her sixth straight start in seven days. and the MSU offense came alive for its best showing to date in the State Farm MVC Championship to eliminate the second-seeded Redbirds.
With Rose doing the heavy lifting in the circle, Jenna Schwark carried the MSU offense with a 3-for-4, three-RBI day at the plate that included run-producing hits in each of the Bears’ three scoring rallies.
Now one of just three teams remaining in the Championship, MSU (21-31) finds itself just two wins away from wrapping up the tournament title and automatic NCAA Tournament berth and moves on to a Saturday (May 15) match-up against top-seeded Southern Illinois at 11 a.m., for the right to play the No. 3 seed Creighton in the winner-take-all final at 2:30 p.m.
Rose continued a remarkable string of performances by holding the Redbirds hitless through 4 2/3 innings before Jessica Roche doubled to left-center. Rose would work out of a jam in the sixth, giving up just one run after ISU loaded the bases with one out.
The sophomore right-hander coaxed ground balls off the bats of the Redbirds’ number four and five hitters, Elizabeth Kay and Michelle Henderson to thwart the rally and preserve a 3-1 lead.
The fifth-seeded Bears blew the game open in the top of the seventh, thanks in large part to a trio of freshmen. Lauren Eisenreich doubled to right-center to lead-off the frame, advanced to second on Madison Hargrove’s sacrifice bunt, then came around to score when pinch-hitter Stevie Pierce unloaded on a Megan Warner 1-2 offering for a back-breaking two-run homer to leftfield.
Christa Gammon scored the final tally for the Bears, reaching base after being hit by a Jordan Birch pitch and swiping her second bag of the game to set up Schwark’s third run-scoring hit of the contest.
The Bears grabbed the early lead with a pair of runs in the top of the first inning, snapping a 13-inning scoreless streak in the process. MSU, which was held to just one hit in a 2-0, 10-inning loss to Southern Illinois in Friday’s first contest, got a lead-off single from Gammon to start the rally. After Gammon stole second base, and Kirstin Cutter rolled a grounder to third, Schwark came up with the first of her key hits, lining a base hit to center to drive home the Bears’ first run of the game. Two batters later, Ashley Knehans brought Schwark to the plate with a two-out single to give the Bears a 2-0 lead.
Schwark struck again in the top of the sixth inning, belting Warner’s first pitch of the frame over the wall in left-centerfield to stake Rose to a three-run cushion.
Rose (9-12) would allow just two baserunners through the first five innings and fan seven Redbirds in all. In her four starts at the MVC Championship, Rose has given up just six runs in 30.2 innings and allowed the opposition to hit just .207.
The Bears’ Saturday morning contest against Southern Illinois can be viewed for free online via live streaming video at www.mvc-sports.com. The championship game of the tournament will be televised live on Fox Sports Midwest at 2:30 p.m.