Tough 2005 Season Sprinkled With Big Wins for Oakland Baseball

    

At the conclusion of the 2004 season, head baseball coach Mark Avery knew the odds would be stacked against his squad the following year after losing the majority of his pitching staff to either graduation or the Major League draft. Several players were pulled out of position throughout the course of the 2005 season as a result. Add to that a multitude of injuries and the season seemed to take on a life of its own with several ups and downs for the Golden Grizzlies.

Heading into the year with a roster of less than 30 and an even smaller core of healthy players, the black and gold faced a rough start with 23 road contests before ever hosting a home game and did not pick up their first win until nine games into the season. With the schedule altered a bit due to bad weather, Oakland started its spring in Tennessee, first facing Vanderbilt before playing the Volunteers. Despite holding an early 1-0 lead on the Commodores, Vandy came back to win 8-3. The Grizzlies remained in Tennessee for the week as the teamís four-game series with Dayton was moved to Shelby Park in Nashville due to weather concerns in Ohio. Although OU kept things close in games one, two and four, the Flyers claimed the series sweep of Oakland, sending the Golden Grizzlies packing north for a four-game swing at Ball State.

Sophomore Paul Phillips became OU's highest draft pick in the program's Division I era in 2005, going to the Blue Jays in the ninth round.

After dropping a pair of games to the Cardinals to start, the road warriors snagged their first victory of the young season, a decisive 9-1 win in game three. Junior Aaron Hines (Coal City, Ill.) got the W in his first decision of the year after shutting BSU down over the first five innings before a 37-minute rain delay forced him out of the contest. The teamís next nine games werenít any easier as the Golden Grizzlies dropped all nine, including a four-game series with Big Ten foe Michigan, though OU held a 4-1 lead on the Wolverines in game two until the maize and blue pulled out four runs in the final inning.

Oakland took its 1-17 record to Columbus April 6 and came up with one of the teamís biggest wins of the season, a 6-5 decision over Ohio State. Down by two in the top of the ninth frame, OU centerfielder Will Tollison (Toledo, Ohio) doubled to left field to score three runs and give Oakland a 6-4 lead on the Buckeyes. Coming in to pitch in the bottom of the inning, junior Kevin Hale (Columbus, Ohio) recorded his first save of the year and got the Golden Grizzlies out of a jam for the teamís second victory of the season.

Riding an emotional high, OU finally opened Mid-Con action on the road at Centenary April 9-10. The Grizzlies came away with one hard-fought win in the series Ė a 3-2 victory in game two Saturday. After losing a back-and-forth battle, 7-6, in game one, Oakland rebounded to take the second game in extra innings. With two outs in the top of the ninth and men on the corners, OU pinch-hitter Brad Noel (Westerville, Ohio) hit a soft chopper to the left side. Communication problems in the Gentsí infield allowed Kurt Rosenacker (Cincinnati, Ohio) to cross the plate for what proved to be the winning run.

With a 3-20 scorecard, the Golden Grizzlies opened the home portion of their schedule with Mid-Con rival Oral Roberts. Oakland nearly pulled off a series-opening victory, but, tied 1-1 after seven innings in game one, the Golden Eagles came out on top of a pitching duel, scoring what proved to be the winning run in the top of the eighth on a sacrifice fly to right field. OU starting right-hander Paul Phillips (Blissfield, Mich.) threw for eight innings, giving up just one earned run and four hits, while striking out six ORU batters. The host Grizzlies finally got their revenge on ORU in the last game of the weekend. After dropping game one of Sundayís double-header with Oral Roberts, 9-0, Oakland came back in dramatic fashion to defeat the Golden Eagles 5-3. The win marked just the second time the Golden Grizzlies have ever beaten ORU and the first time at home. OU right fielder Tim Doig (Farmington, Mich.) was 3-for-3 in that game with two RBIs to lead the offense.

Taking a brief break from conference action, Oakland hosted Eastern Michigan on April 20 and, despite holding an early 1-0 lead, was unable to hang on as the visiting Eagles broke a 4-4 tie in the sixth inning and held off the Golden Grizzlies for a 5-4 win. Just three days later, the black and gold traveled west for a bone-chilling series with Chicago State. Sub-40 degree temperatures didnít seem to faze the Grizzlies as OU swept Chicago State in double-header action in the Windy City Saturday. Oakland claimed the first game by a score of 13-6 on eight hits and followed that up with a 10-2 performance in the nightcap. Senior first baseman Ty Herriott (Ostrander, Ohio) was a huge key to the teamís success, going 3-for-6 with six RBIs and a walk. The team completed the series sweep of the Cougars Sunday by winning 10-0 and 11-5. Battling flu symptoms over the weekend, Phillips picked up his first win of the season in game one, allowing just two hits and a pair of walks over seven innings while striking out seven.

Senior Ty Herriott concluded his career by breaking nearly every offensive record on the OU books, including RBI with 152.

Phillips and catcher/designated hitter Nate Recknagel (Lake Orion, Mich.) were tabbed by the Mid-Continent Conference as Pitcher and Player of the Week, respectively, for the week ending April 26. The two led the Golden Grizzlies to a 4-1 record during the week, including the series sweep of CSU. It was the first such honor for either in their careers. In addition to Phillipsí momentous win on the mound, Recknagel ripped 10 hits on the week, including five doubles and a triple, batting .500 in five starts. He was also OUís top run producer with eight RBIs and 10 runs scored. Additionally, Recknagel walked three times and did not strikeout in 23 plate appearances. He also contributed defensively with 11 putouts, four assist and no errors in five games. His best performance was a 3-for-4 day with two runs scored and a pair of RBIs in an 11-5 win over the Cougars Sunday. Also on the 26th, Recknagel became the first Golden Grizzly baseball player to ever receive national recognition as he was named by the College Baseball Foundation as one of their national Players of the Week.

Back in Rochester once again, OU hosted Western Illinois next and managed a 4-1 win to open the series, giving the squad its fifth consecutive victory Ė the teamís longest streak of the season. The Leathernecks halted the streak, however, by taking the final three games of the series.

That did not deter the Golden Grizzlies though as the team went down to Kent State on May 4 and rallied for a 7-6 decision over the Golden Flashes in 10 innings in the first ever meeting between the two teams to snap KSUís eight-game winning streak. Trailing 3-2 in the eighth, Herriott hit a three-run home run to key a four-run frame. The Golden Flashes responded with three runs in the bottom of the inning to tie the contest. OUís Daniel Dobberowsky (St. Clair Shores, Mich.) doubled in the tenth inning and then scored the go-ahead run when KSU muffed a ball off the bat of Chad Winkler (Port Huron, Mich.). Dobberowsky also pitched the final two frames to notch the victory and improve to 1-3 for the season.

Following that encouraging win, Oakland was swept at the hands of Valparaiso at home, and plummeted to sixth place in the league. Things didnít get any easier for the Grizzlies as the team fell 2-7 next at Notre Dame before heading out to Southern Utah for OUís Mid-Con finale. Needing to win at least three of the four contests out west, as well as needing other key conference outcomes to align, the Golden Grizzlies came up short of qualifying for the Mid-Con Tournament a third straight year. Though Oakland split the series with the Thunderbirds, taking games two and four, it was not enough and the program finished with a 9-15 league record.

OU went on to close out its season by a record of 2-4, first falling to EMU for the fifth time during the season, followed by a tough 7-10 loss to Central Michigan. Oakland then split a non-conference series with North Dakota State to end the 2005 season with an overall record of 14-38.

Despite a disappointing season, Phillips and Recknagel were named to the Mid-Con all-league first team and Winkler was selected to the second team as voted on by the conferenceís seven head coaches. It marked the first such honor for all three. Additionally, Recknagel became the first OU baseball player to earn All-America status as Collegiate Baseball named the utility player to its Louisville Slugger Freshman All-America team. The rookie saw equal time this year at first base, catcher and designated hitter.

Rookie Nate Recknagel has already left a mark on the OU baseball program, earning Freshmen All-America honors after leading the team in nearly every offensive category in 2005.

Starting in 45 of 48 games in 2005, Recknagel led the team in nearly every offensive category, including batting average (.351), runs (32), hits (59), doubles (14), total bases (90), slugging percentage (.536) and on base percentage (.414). His .351 average was also good for fourth in the Mid-Continent Conference standings. He additionally tied for eighth in the league in homeruns with five, tied for fifth in doubles, tied for ninth in total bases, as well as ranking ninth in slugging percentage and sixth in on base percentage. Already appearing in Oaklandís Division I record book after just his first season with the Golden Grizzlies, Recknagel ranks fifth in single-season batting average, ninth in hits, seventh in slugging percentage and tied for fifth in doubles and fourth in doubles per game (0.29).

Also a bright spot for the Oakland baseball program in 2005 were Phillips and Herriott who each received the opportunity to continue their careers at the professional level. First, Herriott signed with the Richmond (Ind.) Roosters of the Frontier League in late May. He entered Richmondís starting lineup as the Roosterís first baseman immediately upon meeting the team in Washington, Penn., for a three-game series with the Wild Things. The slugger helped his new team to an 11-3 defeat of Washington, going 1-for-1 with four walks in the win. It serves as no surprise to the Oakland baseball staff and fans that Herriott has been given a chance to play at the professional level, as the recent graduate owns nearly half of the offensive career records in OU baseball history. During his four-year career, Herriott earned the record for most games (199), games started (192), at bats (618), home runs (41), runs batted in (152), total bases (347) and walks (120). He additionally holds the OU Division I record for runs with 128. Herriott also laid claim to six Golden Grizzly single-season records, including home runs (18 in 2004), home runs per game (0.33 in 2004), total bases (136 in 2004), walks (39 in 2002), walks per game (0.83 in 2002) and putouts (451 in 2004).

Just one week later, Phillips became OUís highest Major League Baseball draft pick in the schoolís Division I era when the Toronto Blue Jays took the sophomore in the ninth round as the 266th overall pick. He also represented the 17th player during Averyís tenure to sign a professional contract. Phillips led Oakland with a 4.23 earned run average in 2005, posting a 2-8 record. The righty ranked third in the Mid-Con with 66 strikeouts on the season, getting 12 starts in 15 appearances and pitching two complete games in 76 2/3 innings. In two seasons with the Golden Grizzlies, Phillips placed himself in the OU Division I record books several times, including single-season starts with 12 this year to tie for fifth. He also pitched the third-most innings in a season in 2005, posted the third-lowest ERA and ranked fifth in strikeouts. For his career, Phillips finished with the lowest ERA in Oaklandís DI era at 4.19 and tied for ninth in starts (16), tied for fourth in complete games (3), ranked fourth in fewest hits per nine innings (122) and is 10th with 91 career strikeouts in 26 games.

Though the 2005 season was certainly a rough one, the Golden Grizzlies have their eyes set on the future of the OU baseball program. With Recknagel and Ryan Joffrion (Otsego, Mich.) heading up the list of talented underclassmen, coupled with the experience of rising seniors such as Bryan Marulli (Sterling Heights, Mich.) and Doig, the Grizzlies look to regroup this fall and anticipate the arrival of a fresh new recruiting class to help Oakland compete in 2006.

Golden Grizzlies Photo Galleries