Depth and Experience Should Help Golden Grizzlies Roar in 2003

Senior Peter Varon

What a difference a year makes.  For the Oakland baseball team this phrase could hold a lot more meaning than they think.  After entering the 2002 campaign with little experience head coach Mark Avery believes he has obtained the pieces to complete the puzzle for 2003.  "Last year we had no experience entering the season.  Now with all of our transfers and the experience we received last year, we have some experience entering the season."  

Avery believes additions like senior transfer Chris Hilton (Amherstburg, Ont.) and junior college transfers Ryan Good (Rochester Hills, Mich.) and Chris Way (Royal Oak, Mich.) could help Oakland improve upon last season.  "Hilton's great hitting, coupled with his strong arm will make him a threat on offense and defense."  "Good and Way are both solid righthanded pitchers."  "Way is our hardest thrower by far, but both will add to the pool of talent in the bullpen."  With the loss of five key players, particularly captain and pitcher Jared Thomas and pitcher David Viane who Avery lost to the draft along with Nick DiPonio, Erik Crossley and Chris Kimball  it will be important to get some experience under the belts of these new additions.  

Oakland gets the season under way with its spring trip to North and South Carolina, starting at UNC-Ashville on February 22nd.  Avery feels a little more comfortable with the spring trip this year compared to those in the past.  "Instead of playing the likes of Georgia Tech and Auburn as we have done in the past, we are going to play Mid-level Division I schools similar to ourselves."  "This should be a very good test for us early on."  

Along with playing the likes of UNC-Ashville, Davidson and Wofford to start the season, Oakland will face Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Detroit, Dayton and Butler.  They will also face the likes of Big Ten teams Michigan and Ohio State and will travel to South Bend, Ind. later in the season to tangle with the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame.  By playing with these teams, Avery believes this will be a good way to track his team's improvement throughout the year.  "These are solid teams that are really improving in the region, and if we want to keep up with them we have to continue to improve as a program year in and year out."  "College baseball, with how the draft is changing and with the lack of players getting drafted out of high school, the college game is definitely improving and we have to improve to be able to compete with these players and the teams that acquire them."  

Junior Spencer Hynes

After finishing third in the Mid-Con with a 9-8 record and being within a game of the Mid-Con Tournament championship game, the Golden Grizzlies are ready to tear into their Mid-Con schedule on April 19th against Western Illinois, and get another chance to reach that championship game.  "I think we should be in the top three in the conference if everything falls into place," said Avery.  "It's tough to compete in the Mid-Con, especially against Oral Roberts."  "They are one of the best teams in the country, let alone our conference, so if you can get a win out of them in that four-game series you feel like it was a success."  "Hopefully we can be in the top four teams and go back to the tournament and get a chance to at least compete in the championship game."  

Leading the team into the 2003 campaign will be captains Peter Varon (Bloomfield Hills, Mich.), Kyle Boehm (Grand Rapids, Mich.) and Tony Marulli (Sterling Heights, Mich.).  Varon, a first baseman, is a fifth-year senior and all-conference player.  He had a .303 batting average last season with 13 home runs and 39 RBIs to go along with a team-best .596 slugging percentage based on appearance.  "Varon put up great numbers for us last season," said Avery.  "He was by far our most important hitter, putting us ahead or tying the game for us with 11 of his 13 home runs."  "He was that go-to guy in the middle of the lineup we could always depend on."  

Boehm is a second-year captain who finished last season with a 3.79 ERA as a righthanded pitcher.  He had 32 strikeouts in 23 appearances, recording five saves as a freshman.  "Entering last year Kyle had probably the best freshman pitching performances we've had here at Oakland since going Division I," said Avery.  "He went out there  and was always in our tough situations."  "He was our closer/stopper in the bullpen and we always used him when the game was on the line."

Junior Tony Marulli

Marulli, hit .276 last season with 18 RBIs.  He had 21 stolen bases as a junior.  "Tony is a two-year starter for us who has great experience and is someone we expect a lot of great things out of this year," commented Avery.  

In the outfield Avery will use a five player rotation, two left handed hitters in Jeff Hall (Perrysburg, Ohio) and Spencer Hynes (Clarkston, Mich.) and three right handed hitters in Will Tollison (Toledo, Ohio), Josh Patton (Troy, Mich.) and Brad Leach (Shelby Twp., Mich.).  Avery is very impressed with this group and is very confident in their ability.  "This is by far the best quality group of outfielders I have had since I have been here."  

Peter Varon will play a majority of the time at first base for the Golden Grizzlies and will bat fourth in the lineup.  Coach Avery will use a three to four player rotation up the middle.  Jerry Dufour (Windsor, Ont.) and Ryan Freiburger (St. Clair Shores, Mich.) will share time at second base and John Sullivan (Saginaw, Mich.), Bryan Marulli (Sterlin Heights, Mich.) and Freiburger will split time at shortstop.  Ty Herriott (Ostrander, Ohio) and Sullivan will occupy the third base spot.  This rotation will provide Oakland with some experience in the infield for the first time since Avery has been here.  Behind the plate Tony Marulli (Sterling Heights, Mich.) and Chris Hilton (Amherstburg, Ont.) will split time, with Marulli getting the majority.  This will give Oakland greater experience at the catcher position, being able to start a senior and redshirt junior rather than a freshman or sophomore which has been the case in the past.   

Despite the loss of Thomas and Viane to the draft, who had approximately 100 innings and a sub five ERA between them, Avery is confident his new arrivals will mix in well with the returning players to add some depth on the mound.  "With the depth that we have, I think this will be the first time we can go into conference weekends with a full arsenal of pitchers at our disposal."  

The starting rotation will include senior B.J. Brown (Niles, Mich.), juniors Dominic Carmosino (Cincinnati, Ohio) and Brad Morenko (Marysville, Mich.), and junior college transfer Chris Way (Royal Oak, Mich.).  Freshmen Billy Schmieder (Chillicothe, Ohio), Paul Phillips (Blissfield, Mich.) will be the weekday starters for the Golden Grizzlies.  

Senior Jeff Hall

In the bullpen for Oakland will be stoppers Tim Edick (Northville, Mich.) and Kyle Boehm (Grand Rapids, Mich.).  Steve Kniebbe (Bridgeport, Mich.), Ryan Good (Rochester Hills, Mich.), Tim Stenger (Cincinnati, Ohio) and Nate Weller (Grand Haven, Mich.) will round out the great depth of talent ready to throw for coach Avery.  "This will be, by far, the most talent that we've had since I've been here and we have a tremendous amount of arm strength."  "Every guy in our staff is going to be throwing 87 mph or harder this year and we will probably have nine or 10 guys touch 90 mph throughout the year, which is a big difference in what our pitchers have thrown in the past."  Oakland's top relief pitcher coming into 2003 will be Gordon Hosbein (St. Joseph's, Mich.).  Hosbein struggled in 2002 with shoulder problems but first-year pitching coach Mike Villano has seen some major improvement in the off-season.  "Hosbein has really improved in the time that I have been here," stated Villano.  "He is a very aggressive pitcher who is going to throw a lot of strikes for us this season and force hitters to put the ball into play.  Relief pitchers win games and we expect Hosbein to have a major impact on our success this season."   

What a difference a year makes.  The experience and depth Oakland will have this year should take the Golden Grizzlies as far as they want to go, but Avery knows it will be up to the pitching staff to lead them there.  "I think our team will go with our pitching staff, if we can continue to keep our team in the ballgame by keeping the scores down we should have a great season."  "If you don't throw the ball well you just aren't going to win at this level."  "The same holds true for us, but I think the depth we have will really make a difference."

The optimism Avery has toward his pitching staff is due mostly to pitching coach Mike Villano, who begins his first season as an assistant coach for the Golden Grizzlies.  "Villano has done a phenomenal job with our pitching staff."  "He has done a great job simplifying pitching for our guys and I think his experience has really helped them out.  Ben DiPonio and Chris Newell both return to the Oakland coaching staff for their second year.  "Ben did a great job shoring up our defense on the infield and Chris has done a great job with our hitters."  "Chris is also working with the outfielders and infielders this year." 

Will a year make the difference for Oakland as they prepare for their 2003 campaign?  Coach Avery and his team hope to answer that question with a resounding "YES."


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