Young Bears' team fights through injuries and tough luck to win 21 games in 2007



  The 2007 Missouri State softball team was plagued by injuries and inconsistency as the Bears finished with a 21-29 record, the program's fewest wins since 2001. Newcomers accounted for 204 starts, including 136 by the team's four freshmen, as inexperience played a factor in the team's struggles. The Bears started the season with a five-game winning streak but ended the campaign with six straight losses, and had four losing streaks of more than four games during the season. The team's competition was stiff, as the Bears played 10 games against teams that made the 2007 NCAA Tournament.

  The Bears struggled offensively, finishing ninth of ten teams in the Missouri Valley Conference in batting average (.236) and hits (292). Defensively, Missouri State was very solid, finishing third in the MVC and 29th nationally with a .969 fielding percentage. On the mound, MSU relied very heavily on junior Melissa Porche, who pitched in 41 of the 49 games and accounted for 71 percent of the team's innings pitched.

  Despite the disappointing record, the 2007 Bears featured numerous outstanding performances and accomplishments. Head coach Holly Hesse picked up her 500th career Division I coaching victory in a 1-0 triumph over Indiana State on April 22. Hesse joins only Illinois State's Melinda Fischer in the MVC and an elite group of 41 active head coaches with 500 Division I wins.

  The team's record could have been much different had it not been for many close losses. The Bears were 4-9 in one-run games and 1-5 in extra inning games. Three was the magical number for the 2007 Bears, as the team was an impressive 19-3 when scoring three or more runs but was 2-26 when failing to tally three runs. Missouri State was also 17-4 when leading after the third inning, but 1-20 when trailing after the third frame.

 Missouri State opened the season Feb. 10 and 11 at the University of Central Arkansas Lead-Off Tournament. The Bears defeated Jackson State, 3-2, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, 11-3, and host Central Arkansas, 8-0, on the tournament's first day. In bracket play on Sunday, the Bears tallied a season-high 20 runs and 13 hits in a 20-4 drilling of Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Then in the championship game, junior pitcher Melissa Porche threw a no-hitter as the Bears defeated Central Arkansas, 6-0, to capture the tournament title. Porche, senior outfielder Katie Martin, junior third baseman Michelle Armentrout, sophomore shortstop Jessie Smith, and sophomore outfielder Elysha Swider were selected to the all-tournament team as the Bears scored 48 runs in the five games.

  The following weekend, Missouri State ran into much stiffer competition at the Crowne Plaza Classic in Houston, Texas, dropping all five games in the tournament. The Bears dropped their opening game of the tournament to fifth-ranked LSU, 8-0, and then suffered a forfeit to host Houston late the night of Feb. 16. The following day, the Bears dropped a 3-0 decision to Texas State. On Feb. 18, Missouri State lost 6-0 to Indiana and 2-1 to Centenary to close out the tournament. After hitting .398 the previous weekend, the Bears' bats were cooled in Houston as the team posted a 0.71 batting average.

 The Bears again played five weekend games at the Holiday Inn Select Tulsa Festival Feb. 23-25, and posted a 2-3 record. In the opening game, MSU defeated Stephen F. Austin State, 7-0, behind a grand slam and five RBIs from Martin. The Bears dropped the second game on Friday, 4-1, in a nonconference tilt with Creighton. On Saturday, the Bears used a five-RBI performance from fill-in third baseman Jana Shewmaker to defeat Eastern Illinois, 14-6. Playing for the injured Armentrout, Shewmaker was 3-for-4 with three bases-loaded hits as the Bears matched a season-high hit total with 13. On Sunday, the Bears dropped two one-run contests, 3-2 to Eastern Illinois and 6-5 to host Tulsa. Porche, who picked up both Bears' wins on the mound, and Shewmaker, who finished the weekend with a .455 average and nine RBIs, were named to the all-tournament team.

 Missouri State then returned to Springfield for the home opener on Feb. 28, a doubleheader with Oklahoma State. The Bears were competitive in both games, but fell in both by scores of 1-0 and 4-2. Porche (5-5) suffered the loss in game one while freshman Megan Ramsey (2-3) took the defeat in game two.

 The team traveled to St. Louis for the SLU Benefit for Breast Cancer Tournament and split two games on Sunday, March 4, after a rainout the previous day. MSU defeated Southeast Missouri State, 10-4, and dropped a 3-2 decision to the host Billikens. The Bears posted a season high with four home runs against SEMO, as Martin, Shewmaker, Porche, and junior catcher Jen Carr each went deep for MSU in the win. Porche (6-5) picked up the win in game one, while Ramsey (2-4) lost the nightcap.

 The Bears got back on the winning track with two 6-0 victories over Missouri-Kansas City on March 7 in Springfield. Porche and Ramsey both posted complete game three-hit shutouts on the mound. MSU took first inning leads of 5-0 and 3-0, respectively, and pounded out eight hits in each contest. In game two, the Bears set a season high with six stolen bases, including three from Martin and two from Smith.

 Missouri State continued their seven-game homestand with a doubleheader split with North Dakota State on March 13. The Bears dropped game one, 3-1, but rebounded behind a strong pitching performance from Ramsey (4-4) to win game two, 5-1. The Bears' 11-12 record following the victory in the nightcap was the closest the team would be to the .500 mark the rest of the season.

 Creighton came to Springfield for the Missouri Valley Conference opener on March 17 and 18, and the Bluejays left with a three-game sweep of the Bears. Creighton took a 1-0, nine-inning victory over MSU in the opener and a 10-2, five-inning decision in the nightcap Saturday. On Sunday, Porche again took a shutout into extra innings for the Bears, but Creighton tallied two in the ninth to win 2-0. Porche (7-8) suffered both extra-inning defeats in the series despite pitching eight scoreless innings to begin each contest.

 The Bears traveled to Wichita State for a mid-week doubleheader on March 21, falling 5-1 in the opener before taking the nightcap, 4-2. A scheduled three-game weekend series with Bradley was cut to a Sunday doubleheader March 25 after a rainout a day earlier. MSU again split the twinbill, falling 1-0 in game one while taking the nightcap, 3-1. The Bears' Porche was credited with the decisions in both games of the doubleheaders with Wichita State and Bradley, and moved her record to 9-10 on the season.

 An eight-game home stand began unfavorably as Kansas swept the Bears in a mid-week doubleheader March 28 by scores of 4-0 and 3-0. The Bears were again shut out, 6-0, in the first game of a twinbill on March 31 against Evansville. A lineup change by coach Holly Hesse placing Smith in the leadoff role worked to perfection, as the Bears' offense erupted in the nightcap to defeat the Purple Aces, 9-1, in five innings. Smith homered and sophomore outfielder Brooke Kempker drove in four for MSU in the game. In the rubber match on Sunday, the Bears got homers from Smith and Martin to take a 6-0 victory. Porche (11-12) threw her fifth complete game shutout of the season as the Bears took the series.

 In arguably the Bears' most exciting and nail-biting contest of the season, Martin launched an 11th-inning walk-off double to score Smith for the game's only run in an April 4 win over Wichita State. Porche struck out 12 and evened her record at 12-12 with an 11-inning complete game shutout on the mound for MSU. The Bears could not carry the momentum into a weekend series with Northern Iowa, as the Panthers defeated MSU 6-1 on April 6. Missouri State rebounded to salvage a cold weather-shortened series split with a 10-8 victory the following day. The Bears sent 13 batters to the plate and scored eight times in the bottom of the sixth inning to rally from a four-run deficit to take the victory.

 After a Saturday rainout forced a Sunday doubleheader the following weekend, the Bears were able to split with 20th-ranked Southern Illinois in Carbondale on April 15. Missouri State beat reigning MVC Pitcher of the Year Cassidy Scoggins in the opener, as Smith was 3-for-4 to lead the Bears to a 4-3 victory. The Salukis managed a series split with a 8-0, five-inning decision in the nightcap.

 The Bears traveled to Indiana State the following weekend, April 21 and 22, for a three-game series. The teams split on Saturday with MSU winning game one, 6-4, and the Sycamores taking game two, 11-0, in five innings. The junior Armentrout was 2-for-3 with a home run and four RBIs to lead the Bears to victory in the opener. In the rubber match on Sunday, Kempker launched her first career home run to account for the only scoring in a 1-0 MSU victory to give coach Hesse her 500th career victory.

 Missouri State returned for its final home series of the season on April 28 and 29 against Drake. The teams split a Saturday twinbill with the Bears taking game one, 8-0, in five innings and the Bulldogs rebounding for a 5-3 win in the nightcap. The Bears failed to win the series and their final home game of the season on Sunday, losing 6-4. A three-game series at 22nd-ranked Illinois State concluded the season, and the Bears came up short in all three contests. Illinois State wins of 10-1 and 11-1 on Saturday were followed by a pitcher's duel on Sunday. MSU's Porche (16-18) suffered another heartbreaking defeat as she threw 11 scoreless innings before surrendering a 12th-inning run as the Bears fell 1-0.

 The Bears entered the MVC Tournament as the sixth seed and played seventh-seeded Bradley in an opening round game. The tournament unveiled a new eight-team, single elimination format for the 2007 season as Illinois State played host. Martin singled and scored to put the Bears ahead 1-0 in the first inning, but the Braves rallied for a 2-1 victory that ended MSU's season.

 Martin and Smith finished the season atop nearly every offensive statistical category for Missouri State and the duo were the only two to play in and start every game during the season. Smith led the MVC with 17 stolen bases and Martin finished second, with 16. Martin led the team with a .307 batting average and .412 on-base percentage and had team-bests with 46 hits, 30 runs scored, nine doubles, and 27 walks. Smith's .513 slugging percentage, 25 RBIs, seven home runs, three triples, and 79 total bases led the team. Sophomore Brooke Kempker led the MVC in the hit-by-pitch category, as she was beaned by 10 pitches during the season.

 On the mound, Porche finished with a tough-luck 16-19 record and a 2.17 ERA. In 16 of Porche's 19 losses, the Missouri State scored no runs or only one run of offensive support. The junior finished with 222 strikeouts to rank fourth in the MVC and tie for fourth-most in a single season at MSU. Her 35 starts rank second and 41 appearances and 232 innings pitched are third in single-season school history. Freshmen Megan Ramsey and Lauren McGinley combined for 32 appearances and 14 starts. Ramsey evolved into the team's number two starter behind Porche, and finished her rookie campaign with a 5-7 record and 4.01 ERA in 24 appearances, including 11 starts. McGinley made three starts and appeared in eight games, posting an 0-2 record.

 Martin was the only Bear to earn postseason accolades. The centerfielder was named to All-MVC second team for the second consecutive season. The senior was also a repeat selection to the MVC Scholar-Athlete first team in 2007. She was also the team's lone representative on the MVC All-Tournament team. Martin's biggest honor came when she was named as one of 20 national semifinalists and later 10 finalists for the Lowe's Senior CLASS Award, which identifies personal qualities that define a complete student-athlete, with criteria including excellence in the classroom, character and community, and competition in sports. Selected by a nationwide vote of coaches, media and fans, Martin finished in the top five of the cumulative voting to earn All-Senior All-America first team status. The Baldwin City, Kan., native maintained a 3.93 grade-point average in medical technology.

 Martin was one of three seniors on the Bears' roster, but the only to see substantial playing time in 2007. Two-year starter Whitney Peyton was sidelined for the season with an injury and Courtney Owens saw limited playing time in 2007 as she was also slowed by an injury. Martin started 203 games during her career at Missouri State as a four-year starter.

 The 2008 Bears will return nearly every position player and all three pitchers, including Porche who will look to further etch her name into the career record books. Defense should be a strength of the team, with the entire infield and both catchers returning. The team will need to improve its offensive production and run-scoring output to draw closer to the 40-win season accomplished in 2006.



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