Golden Grizzlies Hope Depth Overcomes Inexperience

The Oakland University baseball team enters the 2002 season with just five seniors. Oakland returns five starters and has added 16 new players to its roster. OU’s starting lineup will consist of two seniors, two juniors, two sophomores and three freshmen. The Golden Grizzlies do have depth at every position which should help OU with competition and offset immaturity that comes with 15 freshmen.

"We have no experience heading into the season," said head coach Mark Avery. "This being said we do have players that have the ability to make an impact right away and the spring trip that consists of eight valuable games to give them playing time."

The spring trip coach Avery refers to is Oakland’s first trip to Alabama. OU will face Division II Alabama-Huntsville, Jacksonville State and University of Alabama-Birmingham. This is a far cry from opening up with #1 Georgia Tech like OU has done in the past.

"I think when we went to Georgia two years ago with a veteran team it helped us," said Avery. "Last season with no experience on the mound and no depth, it hurt us because we had to leave pitchers out to dry, which in turn can shatter a pitcher’s confidence."

"Alabama-Huntsville is a very good Division II squad and the games against Birmingham and Jacksonville State should be competitive. I do think we have a better shot at winning some games this season."

The Golden Grizzlies will look to tri-captains Nick DiPonio (Highland/Orchard Lake St. Mary’s), Tony Marulli (Sterling Heights/Utica) and Jared Thomas (Clarkston/Wayne State) to provide leadership and experience.

"Anytime you have a career .300 hitter returning in DiPonio you have leadership at the plate," said Avery. "In Marulli, we have a catcher with experience which should help our pitchers. Finally Thomas has experience on the mound with two years of college at Wayne State. He will lead by example on and off the field and should have a tremendous year after sitting out last season."

DiPonio finished second on the OU squad last season with a .318 batting average. He led the team with 14 doubles and 28 walks. Marulli split time last season starting in 29 of 36 games played in. He finished the season with a .186 batting average, with six doubles and two home runs. Thomas redshirted last season due to the transfer rule. He will be in the starting rotation for the Golden Grizzlies and is a strong left-handed pitcher that has potential to being drafted after this season.

The other inexperienced players should gain valuable playing time before the Mid-Continent Conference play opens up with 29 non-conference games before the real season starts. This should help the freshman become sophomores before the Mid-Con rolls around.

"With two teams dropping out of the Mid-Con this year, Youngstown State moving to the Horizon League and IUPUI dropping its baseball program, we have the opportunity to gain three additional weeks before conference play begins," said Avery. "It will give us the chance to see everybody at all positions and have a solid idea of who is best where when that time comes in our schedule."

The non-conference games Avery refers to is in-state rivals Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Detroit, Michigan, along with Ohio natives Wright State, Toledo and Ohio State.

"These games become very important as far as recruiting," said Avery. "These schools are the ones we go to battle with when trying to get in-state student/athletes to attend our university.

Oakland does have another trip down south after Alabama when they take on New Mexico State in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The Golden Grizzlies will travel there from March 29th-31st.

"New Mexico State is another quality opponent on our schedule this season," said Avery. "This is the first time we will head south with 15 plus games under our belt, which will give us a better chance at succeeding and get us ready for Mid-Con opponents."

Mid-Con opponents come in the way of Oral Roberts, Southern Utah, Western Illinois, Chicago State and Valparaiso. Oral Roberts has won four straight Mid-Con tourney champion ships and will be the team to beat against this season. Southern Utah returns eight letterwinners and Valparaiso returns Louisville Slugger All-America honoree Mark Pedersen and should give everybody a run for their money.

"I think the conference is as strong if not stronger this year than compared to years past," said Avery. "Oral Roberts might have its best team ever and Southern Utah has brought in some talented recruits. Anytime a team returns an All-American, they are strong and Valpo has done that in utility player Mark Pedersen."

The Golden Grizzlies’ strengths heading into the 2002 season will be depth, arm strength and speed. A major weakness for this year’s squad will be the youth and inexperience.

"I have the luxury of having multiple players at every position," said Avery. "I literally have two starters at every position which differs from years past. I will have pinch hitters off the bench that hit both ways which will allow us to have certain match-ups that we didn’t have before, along with being able to substitute in latter innings to players that are stronger defensively."

OU has plenty of experience in the outfield. The Golden Grizzlies have three seniors, one junior, two sophomores and four freshmen on the grass. Paving the way will be seniors DiPonio, Chris Kimball (Anchor Bay/Anchor Bay) and transfer David Viane (Farmington/Bowling Green). Also seeing time in the outfield will be junior Jeff Hall (Perrysburg, OH/Perrysburg), sophomores Spencer Hynes (Clarkston/Clarkston), Josh Patton (Troy/Troy) and freshman transfer David Alexander (Grand Blanc/Central Michigan).

DiPonio will start in rightfield for the Golden Grizzlies. He has played leftfield in the past two seasons, but moves over to right after the graduation of Kip Harris. DiPonio is the leading returning hitter for Oakland and will bat third for OU.

Kimball started at shortstop last season but has moved to the outfield this season. He will see time in leftfield for the Golden Grizzlies. He will hit at the top of the OU lineup as he batted lead off in the 2001 season starting in 43 of 44 games played in. He finished last year with a .287 batting average, with seven doubles, two triples and two home runs. Kimball had 15 RBI and 41 runs scored.

Viane transferred to OU from Bowling Green. He played two seasons at Henry Ford CC before heading to Bowling Green under head coach Stu Rose. Viane batted .407 for the Falcons last season and will see time in centerfield for the Golden Grizzlies.

Hall will be entering his third season at Oakland. He played in 25 games in 2002, starting in nine of them. Against Western Illinois on May 12th, 2001, Hall played all nine positions for OU. He batted .161 last year with one double and one RBI.

Hynes is coming off a redshirt year for the Golden Grizzlies. He broke his hand and was granted a medical redshirt by the NCAA. He played in 11 games, tallying 32 at bats, six hits and one stolen base. He will be competing for a spot in centerfield.

Patton started in 16 of 25 games played in last year. He hit .254 in 59 at bats, tallying one triple and three RBI. Patton brings speed to the outfield and will see action in centerfield.

Alexander comes to Oakland after redshirting last year at Central Michigan. Alexander was originally recruited by the Golden Grizzlies but decided to go to CMU. He then changed his mind and is now with the Golden Grizzlies.

Also helping the outfielders will be freshmen Bryan Marulli (Sterling Heights/Utica), Brad Leach (Shelby Twp./Utica) and Tim Doig (Farmington/Harrison). Marulli was elected All-League, All-Conference, All-District, All-Region, and First Team All-County in his senior season at Utica High School. He finished the year with a .472 batting average.

His high school teammate Leach also earned four varsity letters at Utica High School. Leach made the All-State team in 2000 and his Senior year he had a .440 batting average and 14 home runs. He also pitched and went 9-2, while leading his team to a state quarterfinalist.

Doig led his high school team to a #2 ranking in Division II in both his junior and senior seasons. He had a batting average of .447, 40 runs scored, 45 hits, 33 RBI, eight doubles, two triples and three home runs. The infield returns four players with experience and some talented freshman. The Golden Grizzlies return senior Erik Crossley (Woodhaven/Woodhaven), junior Peter Varon (Bloomfield Hills/Andover), sophomores Josh Masden (Noblesville, IN/Noblesville), Ryan Freiburger (St. Clair Shores/LakeShore), John Sullivan (Saginaw/Saginaw Nouvel), freshmen Ty Herriot (Ostrander, OH/Buckeye Valley) and Kyle Boehm (Grand Rapids/Rockford).

Crossley is Oakland’s top returning defensive infielder. He will see time at second and third base. The five-year senior had a .919 fielding percentage last season and started in 20 of 26 games played in. He batted .193 in 57 at bats, including one double and one RBI. He had 21 put outs and 36 assists at second base.

Varon is coming off a redshirt season in 2001. He used the redshirt season to get bigger and will start at first base for the Golden Grizzlies. In 2000, Varon hit .268, with 112 at bats, 30 hits, eight doubles, one triple, two home runs, 17 RBI and a .411 slugging percentage. He tallied a .967 fielding percentage at first base, starting in 33 of 44 games played in.

Masden took over second base duties last season and batted ninth in the Golden Grizzly lineup. He hit .255, in 157 at bats, with three doubles, one homer, 40 runs scored and 27 RBI. He led Oakland with eight stolen bases in 10 attempts. He ended the season with a very impressive .975 fielding percentage in 93 chances.

Freiburger started at shortstop halfway through last season and will fight for time over there again this season. He started in 34 of 38 games played in, while hitting .236 in 110 at bats. He recorded one double and 11 RBI, while swiping three stolen bases in five attempts. Freiburger had a .904 fielding percentage with 82 assists.

Sullivan played a little first and third last year. He will play third base exclusively this year. Sully played in 17 games last year, starting in eight of them. He had 30 at bats, tallying four hits, one home run and one RBI. He committed seven errors at third base.

Herriot will challenge Sullivan for third base duties. He earned four varsity letters at Buckeye Valley High School and recorded a batting average of .540, with 31 runs scored, 38 RBI, 12 doubles, three triples and seven home runs in senior season. He recorded a pitching record of 8-3 and an ERA of 2.48.

Boehm is another talented frosh who will see playing time right away. He will compete for a starting position at shortstop. Boehm earned four varsity letters at Rockford High School and earned All-Conference, All-District and All-Regional teams in senior year. He was selected to the All-State second team recording a batting average of .349, with two home runs, 14 doubles and two triples.

Gerry Dufour (Windsor, Ontario/St. Thomas of Villanova) and Adam Welch (Clawson/Clawson) will sit out their freshman years to redshirt.

The pitching staff has some experience but is still young. Juniors Jared Thomas and Brent Brown (Niles/Brandywine) will provide leadership and experience for the pitching staff, along with sophomore starters Dominic Carmosino (Cincinnati, OH/St. Xavier) and Brad Morenko (Marysville/Marysville).

Thomas is a redshirt transfer from Wayne State. He throws hare from the left side and will be in the starting rotation. He played two seasons at Wayne under head coach Roger George.

Carmosino is OU’s top returning pitcher recording a 2-4 record in 2001. He ranked second on the team with 59.1 innings pitched, 51 strikeouts, 6.37 ERA and held opponents to a .275 batting average last year. Carmosino started in eight games and recorded three complete games for the Grizzlies.

Morenko finished last year with an 1-8 record and an 9.38 ERA. He struck out 26 hitters and pitched in 55.2 innings. Morenko’s one win came in a complete game, 3-2 victory over in-state rival Michigan on March 21, 2001. He struck out three, giving up seven hits and two runs, zero earned.

Brown had 12 appearances for OU last year and started in one game. In 13 innings pitched, he gave up 23 hits, walked 32 and struck out 18. His ERA was 20.77 and had a record of 0-1. Brown will be a mid-week starter for the Golden Grizzlies.

The Bullpen for Oakland is young but has some powerful arms. OU returns Tim Edick (Novi/Novi) and Steve Kniebbe (Bridgeport/Bridgeport). Edick will see time if he remains healthy. He went 0-1 last season coming into the game in the later innings. He tallied 17 strikeouts in 20 innings pitched.

Kneibbe led Oakland last year with three victories. He finished the season with a 3-3 record, pitching in 15 games and starting five of them. He had 37.2 innings pitched, striking out 18 and walking 24. He had a 7.17 ERA, fourth best on the team.

Freshmen that have joined the staff and will see time out of the pen will be Boehm, Nate Weller (Grand Haven/Grand Haven), Steve Liebecht (Saginaw/Saginaw Heritage) and Pete Echtinaw (Sterling Heights/Stevenson). Boehm will help OU in the late innings. In high school, Boehm recorded four saves and an ERA of 0.89. He also had a pitching record of 6-2.

Weller was named to the All-Area and All-Conference teams and was also the teams MVP in his senior year. He had 96 strike outs in 63.1 innings pitched and had a personal record of 4-4.

Liebriecht led his high school team to back-to-back 32-4 and 32-4 records. Both those squads finished fourth in the state. He earned four varsity letters at Saginaw Heritage High School along with earning one letter in hockey.

Echtinaw earned four varsity letters for Sterling Heights High School and was named to the All-League and All-District teams in senior season. He went 9-1 with a 1.10 ERA in 56 innings pitched, while tallying 98 strike outs.

Joining the pitching staff in the winter is Gordon Hosbien (St. Joseph/St. Joseph). Hosbien returns to Oakland after missing most of last season. He brings experience to the pitching staff and was in the Grizzlies starting rotation in his first two seasons. He made three appearances in 2001, going 0-2. He pitched in six innings, walking five and striking out two. The 2000 season, Hosbien pitched 55.1 innings, walking 15 and striking out 32. He finished the year with a record of 2-5 and an 8.95 ERA.

Freshmen pitchers that will be redshirting this season are Bryan Bishop (Okemos/Okemos) and Tim Stenger (Cincinnati, Ohio/LaSalle).

The catching core returns both starters from last season in Marulli and Matt Gabrielli (Novi/Novi). Both guys switched on and off last season and will help the young pitching staff on pitches and setting up batters.

Marulli was strong defensively for the Golden Grizzlies last season. The 6-5, 230 pounder threw out 11 in 59 attempts against him. He led OU with only 13 passes balls against him.

Gabrielli started in 38 of 41 games played in. He hit .286, recording 126 at bats, 36 hits, six doubles, six home runs, 28 RBI and a .476 slugging percentage. He threw out 12 runners in 49 attempts against him. He allowed 21 passed balls on the season.

Also returning for the Golden Grizzlies is sophomore Michael Trosen (Waterford/Kettering). Trosen saw time a DH and catcher last season. He played in 29 games, starting in 24 of them. Trosen finished the year with a .243 batting average. In 70 at bats, he had 17 hits, four doubles, two home runs and a slugging percentage of .379.

Freshman Dale Young (West Bloomfield/Brother Rice) is coming off a redshirt season in 2001. Young earned four varsity letters for baseball at Brother Rice. He worked hard in the off-season and will add depth the catching position.

Anthony Lalama (Sterling Heights/Stevenson) will be redshirting for OU in the 2002 season.

The Golden Grizzlies know that they will have to be patient early on in 2002. The Spring trip should provide some valuable experience for OU and give the pitchers a chance to gain arm strength. With 29 games before conference play, Oakland should be ready to make a run for the Mid-Con tournament. The Golden Grizzlies will look to depth to get them back to where they were in the 2000 season, a Mid-Con tournament appearance and a chance at the NCAA tournament.

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