Postseason Bid Falls Short for Oakland in 2003

Oakland opened the season with a pair of losses to Elon and a loss to Davidson during its spring trip to the Carolinas but managed to turn things around, winning 12 of its next 16 games.  It started with a four-game sweep of Wofford College.  Billy Schmieder (Chillicothe, Ohio) and Sullivan were named Mid-Con pitcher and player of the week respectively for the week ending March 2nd as they led the Golden Grizzlies to a 4-2 record during that span.  Oakland followed that up by taking three of four from Dayton before splitting a four-game set with Butler.  

Indiana Tech invaded Rochester for a doubleheader and ended up spoiling Oakland’s home opener by taking game one.  The Warriors may have been overlooked, shocking the Golden Grizzlies with an 18-3 win.  It provided a wake-up call for the team, which allowed them to rebound and take the second game 10-5. 

The homestand continued with a doubleheader against Siena Heights on March 27th.  The Saints gave Oakland all they could handle but the Black and Gold managed to win each game by a one-run margin. 

The hunter turned into the hunted though as the Golden Grizzlies lost 13 of their next 14 games beginning with a 10-5 loss at home to intrastate rival Eastern Michigan.  Eight days later Oakland traveled to Columbus, Ohio for a doubleheader against Ohio State.  In the first game Oakland took a 1-0 lead in the fifth.  The Buckeyes responded in the bottom of the inning by scoring two runs and would hold on for the 2-1 win.  The pitching duel continued in the second game as Schmieder was pitted against Greg Prenger.  Prenger would pitch a perfect game to lift Ohio State to a 2-0 win. 

The lone win during that stretch came at home in an 8-1 win over Madonna.  Oakland pounded out 10 hits, four by Gerry Dufour (Windsor, Ont.) and took advantage of four Crusader errors for the win. 

They ran into some more problems, losing the next five games.  Mixed in there were a couple disappointing one-run losses, including a 10-9 loss to Michigan.  In that game senior captain Peter Varon (Bloomfield Hills, Mich.) hit a grand slam to give his team the lead, but a six-run seventh inning by the Wolverines thwarted the Golden Grizzlies chances for a victory.

Oakland opened up conference play at home three days later as they hosted Western Illinois.  After the Leathernecks took two to open the series, the Golden Grizzlies would put an end to the losing streak as they swept both games the following day. 

The following weekend Oakland split its four-game series at home against Valparaiso.  Junior right handed pitcher, Steve Kniebbe (Bridgeport, Mich.) remained perfect at 3-0 as he pitched four and two-thirds innings, striking out six batters in the third game, which resulted in a 10-7 Oakland win.  He would finish the season at 4-1.

Following the series with Valparaiso, Oakland headed to South Bend, Ind. to face #13 ranked Notre Dame.  The Golden Grizzlies gave up three unearned runs as part of a four-run first inning for the Irish.  Oakland held Notre Dame scoreless the rest of the way, but was only able to get one run home themselves; suffering the tough three run loss.

With a 17-23 overall mark and a 4-4 conference record, Oakland got ready for its series at Chicago State.  What should have been an opportunity for the Golden Grizzlies to pick up four wins and improve their standing in the conference, turned into a worst-case scenario as the Cougars stole game three in a 6-5, come from behind win.  This meant Oakland would have to win at least one game against Oral Roberts to give it some breathing room as conference race heated up.

This would not become a reality for Oakland.  After defeating Chicago State in the final game of the series, the Golden Grizzlies lost their last 10 games.  It appeared Oakland was primed to win game three of the series against Oral Roberts.  With an eight run lead in the fourth inning, the Golden Eagles chipped away and would eventually take a 16-15 lead in the ninth inning with a three-run home run from Andy Hargrove.  That’s the way it would end as Oral Roberts went on to win game four 12-1.

Heading into its weekend series finale, Oakland had to take two of four games from Mid-Con foe Southern Utah to have a shot at the conference tournament.  The Golden Grizzlies had things going their way on the first day of the series finale against Southern Utah, but the Thunderbirds came from behind in the late innings to win both games of the first doubleheader.  Southern Utah swept day two by scores of 9-8 and 4-2 to win all four games and bring an end to Oakland’s season and forcing them to face the harsh reality of failing to make the conference tournament for the second time in three years.   

Sophomore’s Will Tollison (Toledo, Ohio) and Kyle Boehm (Rockford, Mich.) garnered first team All-Mid-Con honors at the right field and pitching position respectively, while fellow classmate John Sullivan (Saginaw, Mich.) and junior Dominic Carmosino (Cincinnati, Ohio) were selected to the second team.

Finishing the season at 20-34 overall and fifth place in the conference at 7-13, the expectations that came with the beginning of the season were not met.  This will leave Oakland looking for answers during the offseason.  The future holds much promise for the Golden Grizzlies though as offensive leaders, Tollison and Ryan Frieburger (St. Clair Shores, Mich.) return for the 2004 season.  They will look to compliment a strong pitching staff that will return all but two from the roster, which will ensure that Oakland’s absence from postseason play will not be a continuing trend. 

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