Golden Grizzlies Turn Tables in 2002 Season

SixMidConHonoreesSmall.jpg (14843 bytes)

Mid-Continent Conference
All-League Honorees --
from left Peter Varon, Jared Thomas,
Chris Kimball, Nick DiPonio,
Matt Gabrielli, Erik Crossley

The Oakland University baseball team finished the 2001 season 11-43 and didn't make the Mid-Continent Conference Tournament. The Golden Grizzlies vowed not to let that happen in 2002 and didn’t. Oakland returned to the 2002 Mid-Con Tournament for the second time in three years after finishing the regular season 18-33, 9-8 in league play. The 9-8 conference finish earned them third place and a No. 3 seed in the tourney. OU opened up with a win over No. 2 seed Southern Utah, 8-6, before falling to No. 1 Oral Roberts, 12-3, and then Southern Utah, 8-7. The Golden Grizzlies ended the season at 19-35.

Several Golden Grizzlies earned post-season accolades. Junior left-handed pitcher Jared Thomas took home Newcomer of the Year honors after finishing 4-4, 3-1 Mid-Con on the mound and striking out a league leading 103 batters. Joining Thomas on the first team was junior first baseman Peter Varon and Matt Gabrielli made the team as a designated hitter. Varon led OU with 13 bombs and hit .303 with 39 RBIs, while Gabrielli hit .294 with five home runs and 30 RBIs. Senior left fielder Nick DiPonio was a second straight selection to the All-Mid-Con team. DiPonio led OU with a .341 batting average, with nine doubles, nine home runs and 32 RBI. He was a second team honoree. Senior second baseman Erik Crossley and outfielder Chris Kimball were the final two OU players on the second team. Crossley ended the year hitting .301, with 10 doubles and four home runs. Kimball hit .349 in conference play and .264 for the entire season.

Oakland began the 2002 campaign in Huntsville, Alabama against #2 Alabama-Huntsville (Division II) February 22-24. The Golden Grizzlies dropped all three games to UAH, 8-2, 4-2 and 23-2. Next on the spring trip was Jacksonville State University February 25-26. The Golden Grizzlies were swept for the second straight series, 6-1, 8-1 and 4-3. The final weekend for their spring trip was in Birmingham against Alabama-Birmingham March 1-2. Oakland’s offense picked up in the three-game series, but still fell a little short, 4-3, 18-11 and 15-9. OU ended its Spring Training trip with an 0-9 record.

The Golden Grizzlies remained on the road as they went to Ohio to face Wright State University March 8, 9. Oakland picked up its first victory of the season with a 17-6 win in the second game as they dropped the opener 3-2, and the final game 4-0. Then the Golden Grizzlies returned to Rochester March 16th for a doubleheader with Central Michigan. The Chippewas remained unscathed by OU with a sweep, 6-2 and 5-3. (1-13)

Oakland then took on in-state rival Eastern Michigan in Ypsilanti, Michigan March 19th. Oakland jumped on EMU early and went onto its second victory of the season, 11-3. OU then won its second straight with a win over Madonna (NAIA), 3-2, March 20th on the OU Baseball Field. (3-13)

OU then went back on the road for a four-game series at New Mexico State (3/29-31) and Toledo (4/3). The Golden Grizzlies hung tough in the second game of the New Mexico State series falling 7-6 in 12 innings, but the number one offense in the country nipped the Grizzlies 12-3, 21-8 and 24-7 in the other three contests. Oakland then took on Toledo and lost 10-7 in the bottom of the ninth on a three-run homer. (3-18)

Siena Heights (NAIA) came into Rochester for a doubleheader on April 7th. The Golden Grizzlies picked up their first sweep of the season with 5-4 and 11-1 victories over the Saints. Oakland used a four-run fourth inning for the comeback victory in game one and exploded for 14 hits in the nightcap. (5-18)

The 25th ranked Ohio State Buckeyes were next on the schedule for Oakland in Columbus, Ohio April 10th. OU out-hit OSU 15-8 in the game to pick up its first ever win over a ranked opponent, 10-5. LHP Jared Thomas pitched the final four innings, allowing just three hits and striking out nine Buckeyes. Tony Marulli went 3-for-4, with a home run and four RBIs, while teammate DiPonio finished 2-for-3, with two walks. (6-18)

A three-game homestead was next for the Golden Grizzlies on the OU Baseball Field. First up was Rochester College (NAIA) April 11th. OU jumped out to an early 6-2 lead after four innings, but saw the Warriors rally late and score six runs in the eighth inning to snap OU’s three-game winning-streak, 10-8. Indiana Tech (NAIA) then came to Rochester for a doubleheader April 14th. Oakland defeated ITU in game one, 6-1, before falling in the nightcap 8-3. LHP Dominic Carmosino won his second straight decision on the mound in game one, throwing the final four innings in relief. (7-20)

The final two games before Mid-Con play began were in Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor April 17th and 18th. Eastern Michigan exacted some revenge downing the Golden Grizzlies 11-2 to earn a split on the season. Michigan was trying to avoid a third straight season where OU defeated the Wolverines, but witnessed an offensive outburst from the Golden Grizzlies with 15 hits in the game, as Oakland defeated Michigan, 17-3. OU improved to 2-0 versus the Big Ten on the season. Ten Oakland players recorded a hit against U-M and Peter Varon led the way with a double and triple in the ballgame. (8-21)

Mid-Continent Conference play began with Oakland hosting Southern Utah April 20-21. The first day witnessed a split with OU winning the opener, 8-5, and the T-Birds winning the nightcap, 11-3. Thomas struck out 14 T-Bird hitters in the first game, one away from a school record and a career best for the Clarkston native. The second day of the series witnessed a comeback victory for the Golden Grizzlies courtesy of a game-winning home run off the bat of Varon for a 4-3 win. OU lost the third game of the series, 7-0, thanks to a four-hit shutout from SUU’s James Anderson (Mid-Con Pitcher of the Year). (10-23, 2-2 Mid-Con)

Toledo visited Oakland April 23rd for a nine-inning contest. The Golden Grizzlies trailed, 5-0, heading into the bottom of the eighth inning. After only two hits in the first seven at-bats, OU exploded for 14 in the eighth, including home runs from Matt Gabrielli and Spencer Hynes, for a 10-run eighth and a 10-8 victory. (11-23)

The next conference series came in Macomb, Illinois April 28-29 against Western Illinois. Thomas was brilliant again in game one, striking out 10 in seven innings for the 7-1 victory. The second game was rained out and OU and WIU played a doubleheader on Monday. Oakland scored three runs in the first inning of the opener and held off the Leathernecks 6-4. In game two, the Golden Grizzlies scored in every inning and had too withstand a rally in the ninth to win 10-9. (14-23, 5-2 Mid-Con)

Oakland went on the road for a non-conference match-up against the 18th ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish May 1st. Notre Dame ended OU’s four-game winning-streak, 11-5, to claim its 21st win in its last 23 games. Oakland had a good performance from Josh Patton going 3-for-6 with a home run and three RBIs. (14-24)

The Golden Grizzlies went to Valparaiso, Indiana for a Mid-Con series with the Crusaders May 3rd and 4th. OU blew a 8-3 lead late in the game and had to rally for a 14-11 win in the opener. Oakland recorded only five hits in the nightcap for a 5-1 defeat. The Golden Grizzlies blew a 7-2 lead in game three and fell by10-9 final. The Crusaders scored six runs in the sixth inning for the win. The final game of the series saw OU leading 9-7 in the bottom of the seventh inning. Some more last inning heroics came from Valpo for a 10-9 victory. (15-27, 6-5 Mid-Con)

Detroit hosted Oakland for a mid-week non-conference game in Detroit on May 7th. The Golden Grizzlies scored two runs in the top of the ninth inning but couldn’t get in one more as they fell 3-2. Freshman right-handed pitcher Pete Echtinaw allowed only one run in four innings of work, while striking out three. Kimball and Hynes were the only OU players with two hits, respectively. (15-28)

The final home games came against Chicago State in Rochester. The Golden Grizzlies swept CSU in the opening two games, 12-4 and 13-0. Thomas picked up a win in game one to improve to 3-4. He struck out six Cougar hitters. Carmosino pitched a complete game shutout in the nightcap, surrendering five hits and struck out seven. Crossley went 6-for-7, with nine RBIs and three home runs in the doubleheader, en route to being named Mid-Con Player of the Week (5/13). The next two games were rained out and OU clinched a spot in the 2002 Mid-Con Tournament. (17-28, 8-5 Mid-Con)

OU’s final non-conference games came in Mount Pleasant against Central Michigan May 15th. CMU remained undefeated against Oakland with a sweep, 6-1 and 20-9. Oakland pitchers walked 16 Chippewas’ runners in game two for the 11 run loss. (17-30)

The final conference series came in Tulsa, Oklahoma against Oral Roberts May 18 and 19th. ORU earned a sweep in day one, 6-0 and 7-1. In day two, the Golden Grizzlies dropped the first game, 6-0, but rebounded for their first ever victory over the Golden Eagles, 6-3. RHP David Viane, Kyle Boehm and LHP Brent Brown combined to pitch the game, with Brown picking up his third victory of the season (3-4). Hynes, Crossley, Ryan Frieburger and Varon all recorded two hits in the game. (18-33, 9-8 Mid-Con)

Oakland remained in Tulsa for the Mid-Con Tournament May 23-25. Oakland won the first game against Southern Utah, 8-6. The Golden Grizzlies scorched Pitcher of the Year James Anderson for seven runs in the two-run opening round one win. The second game came against regular season champion Oral Roberts. OU trailed 5-3 through seven innings, until the Golden Eagles rallied for three runs in the eighth and four in the ninth for the 12-3 victory. In the consolation bracket, the Golden Grizzlies faced the Thunderbirds of Southern Utah who knocked off Valparaiso earlier in the day (5/24). OU’s Ty Herriot knocked in the tying run in the top of the ninth inning with two outs as Oakland headed to the bottom of the ninth tied at six. The T-Birds received three walks in the final inning and Kelcey Kemp had an infield single with two outs to score the winning run, 7-6, and end Oakland’s season. Varon, Herriot and Frieburger earned All-Tournament honors for the Golden Grizzlies. (19-35)

The season began with a number of question marks for head coach Mark Avery. Were we too young, could we rebound after a disastrous season in 2001? Can we make the Mid-Con Tournament with only four seniors and three returning starters? These questions were quickly answered when seniors DiPonio, Crossley and Kimball elevated their games and took the freshman under their wings. Herriot and Boehm made huge contributions for freshman and Frieburger had a solid sophomore season. In the end, Avery had the answers he was searching for … YES!  Oakland qualified for the 2002 Mid-Con Tourney and fell two games and one goal short of the NCAA post-season.  Next year?

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