For Missouri State softball head coach Holly Hesse, her staff and a contingent of six former Bears who helped guide the Midwest All-Stars against the USA Softball Women's National team last Friday (July 18) in Springfield, the 15-0 final score did little to diminish the experience of a lifetime.
Despite the imbalance on the scoreboard, the opportunity to compete against the best team in the world left an indelible impression on the sellout crowd of 3,012 at Meador Park, as well as the players and coaches of the Midwest All-Stars -- a squad composed mostly of former Missouri Valley Conference standouts.
Hesse, fifth all-time among Valley softball coaches with 529 career victories in 20 seasons as head coach of the Bears, was joined by MSU assistant coaches Sue Frederick and Beth Perine in leading the squad against Team USA, which entered the contest with 54 victories in 55 outings on its KFC Bound 4 Beijing tour.
“Team USA dominated from beginning to end as they should have,” Hesse said. “It was a tremendous honor to play against the best coaches, best players and best team in the world. They look like they’re ready to win another gold medal.”
The U.S. opened the contest by scoring four runs in the bottom of the first inning off Porche, thanks to RBI hits from Jessica Mendoza, Andrea Duran and Lauren Lappin.
Team USA added seven more runs in the second to put the game away. Caitlin Lowe doubled to drive in the first two runs, before Mendoza stroked her second double of the night to plate two more. Stacey Nuveman then notched her second RBI of the game with a single through the right side, before Duran clubbed a two-run homer and Vicky Galindo capped the inning with a run-scoring single.
That would be all Cat Osterman would need, as the lefty fanned 17 batters en route to a two-hit shutout. The Midwest collected its only hits in the third, when Bradley's Stephanie Ramsey registered a base hit to left with one out, and Wichita State's Katie McGeeney reached on a two-out infield single.
But Osterman struck out Evangel’s Kaylee Nelson to end the Midwest’s lone scoring threat of the evening.
MSU's Michelle Armentrout turned in defensive gem in the bottom of the first, as she retired Lowe on a foul pop for the first out of the ballgame. The Midwest's defense enjoyed another moment in the sun in the fourth, when Galindo lined a Katie Henry offering to short, where Britnee Barnett made the grab and fired to first to nab Lappin for a double play.
Midwest relievers Ashley Bright (Wichita State) and Henry (Arkansas) turned in solid work in back of Porche, combining four 4 1/3 innings and allowing just seven hits and four earned runs. Bright got perhaps the biggest out of the night for the Midwest when she got Crystl Bustos looking in the third immediately after Mendoza’s lead-off homer. Henry also notched a big strikeout, setting down Jennie Finch in the fifth.
Former Bears Armentrout, Porche, Martin and Fleeman each went down on strikes in their only plate appearances of the night, and Porche was tagged with the loss after surrendering 11 earned runs in an inning and two-thirds.
Nevertheless, Hesse pointed to a number of bright spots turned in by the Midwest squad that made the evening a memorable one.
“Michelle Armentrout made a spectacular play on a foul ball in the first inning. The Strikeouts of (Jennie) Finch and (Crystl) Bustos, the double play and the two hits off Cat (Osterman) are memories that will be cherished for a lifetime,” Hesse said. ”The collegiate players gave an outstanding effort and, after the first two innings, really settled down and challenged Team USA.”
“The Springfield Greene County Park Board put on a class event and the people of Springfield supported it with the level of enthusiasm and energy deserving of Olympic championship-caliber play,” Hesse added.
Team USA will begin its quest for a fourth consecutive gold medal when it begins competition at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games on Aug. 12, at Fengtai Softball Field in Beijing, China.