Third Time's A Charm; OU Advances to NCAA Tournament
In only its third year, the Oakland University softball team had dreams of making a trip to the NCAA Tournament. The Golden Grizzlies didn't realize that those dreams would come true in the 2002 season. The Golden Grizzlies began the 2002 season picked to finish first in the Mid-Continent Conference after finishing 16-6 in 2001. When the regular season ended, OU found itself in second place behind UMKC heading into the conference tournament.
In the tournament's first day, Oakland sported a 1-1 record as OU defeated Southern Utah, 4-1, but fell to regular season champions UMKC, 4-0. In the tourney's second day, OU used nine innings to eliminate Western Illinois by the final of 8-7 to advance to the championship game. Oakland had to defeat UMKC twice to secure the Golden Grizzlies firstever trip to the NCAA Tournament. Oakland downed UMKC 2-1 in the first game to force a second championship game. Both teams held the other scoreless until the eighth inning when junior Linnea Utecht drilled in the winning run. The Golden Grizzlies defeated UMKC by the final of 1-0 to advance to their first NCAA Tournament.
Oakland took its 25-35-1 record into Ann Arbor as the Golden Grizzlies were the sixth seed in the NCAA Region Six Softball Tournament. Oakland opened the tournament against the number one seed and the sixth-ranked team in the country, the University of Washington. The Huskies mercied OU, 8-0, in five innings. With its season on the line Oakland had to win against Canisius to remain alive in the NCAA Tournament. And OU did just that ... OUs Erica Judge hit a single past first base to score two runs to give the Grizzlies the 3-1 victory. Oaklands next game was against intrastate rival Central Michigan. Oakland got on the board early scoring in the first inning to take a 1-0 lead. CMU answered in the fourth inning to tie the game at 1-1. In the top of the seventh inning CMU scored a run to take the 2-1 lead over OU. Oakland had one last shot to tie the game, but fell short and lost 2-1 and closed the season with a 26-38-1 record.
Leading OU in the 2002 season was junior Ericka Burns as she led the team with a .356 batting average, 72 hits, eight home runs, 22 RBI and 114 total bases. Leading the Golden Grizzlies on the mound was freshman phenom, Nicole Marzano. The McHenry, Illinois native led the team with a 1.69 ERA, nine complete games, four saves, 166 innings pitched and 112 strikeouts.
The Golden Grizzlies started the season in Texas as OU participated in the Baylor Tournament (2/22-23). Oakland dropped the first four games, but was able to rebound against Stephen F. Austin, 5-2. Picking up OUs first win of the year was junior Julie Anderson who gave up two runs on three hits in seven innings pitched.
Oakland then traveled east to Alabama to face the University of Alabama at Birmingham in a doubleheader (2/25). OU dropped both games, 6-2 and 3-0, to the Blazers. The next day OU traveled to Mississippi to play the Golden Eagles of Southern Miss (2/26). Oakland dropped the first game by the score of 7-1, but was able to rebound as the Golden Grizzlies collected their second win of the season defeating Southern Miss, 1-0. Leading OU in the second game was Lauren Seffens as she went 3-3 from the plate and recorded the game-winning RBI.
Next, Oakland traveled up the road to Starkville, Mississippi to battle No. 22 Mississippi State (2/27). MSU proved to be too much for the Golden Grizzlies as the Bulldogs won both games, 5-0 and 10-1. From Mississippi, Oakland traveled to Tuscaloosa, Alabama to face No. 18 University of Alabama (2/28). Oakland shocked the Crimson Tide winning the first game, 3-2. Leading OU in the victory was Burns as she was 2-3 with three RBI. Sophomore Jaymie Voss picked up her second win of the year as she tossed a complete game allowing only two runs on seven hits. In the second game the Crimson Tide blanked the Grizzlies by the final of 8-0 to hand OU its 10th loss of the year. OU ended its spring trip with a 3-10 record.
OUs next matchup didnt come until March 14 as the Golden Grizzlies traveled to Columbus, Ohio to battle Ohio State. The Buckeyes shut out OU by the final of 10-0. Oakland was held scoreless on two hits, while the Buckeyes scored 10 runs on 13 hits. Oakland committed two errors in the loss. Oakland Record: 3-11
The next day the Golden Grizzlies traveled to Huntington, West Virginia to participate in the Marshall Tournament (3/15-16). In the first game, Marshall used nine innings to down OU, 3-2. In the second game of the tournament, Oakland defeated Cleveland State, 7-6. OU scored seven runs on nine hits, while CSU had six runs on 13 hits. Leading OU was Nicole Schulte going 2-4 with two RBI and one run scored. Collecting the win was Voss as she pitched five innings and gave up two runs on eight hits. OU looked to continue its winning ways, but the Thundering Herd of Marshall again defeated OU by one run, this time 4-3. Looking to rebound from the loss, Oakland again played Cleveland State but this time the Golden Grizzlies werent able to claim victory losing 4-1. Oakland Record: 414
For the first time all year, Oakland played in Michigan. The Golden Grizzlies traveled west to Kalamazoo to battle Western Michigan on March 20. Oakland used extra innings to defeat WMU in the first game 1-0, but lost 9-1 in the second game. Leading OU in the first game was Burns as she went 2-4 from the plate with one RBI and one run scored. Voss picked up the win throwing all eight innings and allowing only four hits. In the second game, WMU claimed a 3-0 lead heading into the fifth inning. OU scored one run in the fifth to close the gap to 3-1. Western sealed the win as the Broncos scored six runs in the fifth inning to mercy OU by the final of 9-1. Oakland Record: 5-15
Next Oakland journeyed to West Lafayette, Indiana to participate in its last tournament of the year, the Purdue Tournament (3/23-24). OU opened the tourney with a 3-1 loss to Gardner-Webb, but was able to rebound with a 2-0 victory over IPFW. In the IPFW game Oaklands Marzano threw the first no-hitter in school history as she recorded a season-high 12 strikeouts. In the third and final game of the tournament, Oakland faced the host of the tournament Purdue. The Boilermakers down the Golden Grizzlies by the final of 9-1 to hand OU its 17th loss of the year. Oakland Record: 6-17
Oakland returned home to host Central Michigan in its home opener, March 27. Oakland dropped the first game to the Chippewas, 4-3. However in the second game, Oakland rebounded and defeated CMU, 3-2, in the nightcap. Leading OU at the plate in the second game was junior Megan Piar as she was a perfect 2-2. Also with two hits for OU was Voss going 2-3 from the plate with one run scored. Picking up the win was junior Linnea Utecht as she pitched three innings allowing one run on two hits. Oakland Record: 7-18
On the weekend of March 29 and 30, Oakland traveled to Kansas City, Missouri to battle UMKC in a four-game weekend series. This marked the first conference matchup of the 2002 season. Oakland dropped the first game 3-0, but came back in the second game of the day to defeat the Kangaroos 6-0. Leading OU in the nightcap was Utecht as she was a perfect 2-2 from the plate including one double. Also recording a double was Schulte as she was 1-2 from the plate with two RBI. Collecting the win for OU was Voss as she tossed a complete game only giving up four hits. Oakland was unable to continue its success in games three and four on Saturday, losing 9-4 and 4-2. Oakland Record: 8-21.
The Golden Grizzlies continued their road trip traveling to Bowling Green, Ohio to battle the Falcons of Bowling Green State University in a non-conference matchup, April 1. BGSU claimed victory in the first game defeating OU, 2-1. In the second game, both teams were tied at 2-2 when the game was called due to darkness. The tie gave both teams their first ties of the year. In the second game both teams scored two runs on five hits. Oakland Record: 8-22-1
Before returning back to Rochester, the Golden Grizzlies traveled to East Lansing to battle the Spartans of Michigan State (4/3). Heading into the seventh inning, OU was three outs away from defeating MSU. Unfortunately for Oakland, the Spartans tied the game at 1-1. MSU scored one run in the 10th inning to win the game, 2-1. Leading OU was Burns as she went 3-4 from the plate with one RBI and one run scored. Collecting Oakland's other two hits was Utecht as she went 2-4 from the plate. Oakland Record: 8-23-1
Oakland returned to Rochester with a 8-23-1 record and 1-3 in the Mid-Con to host Southern Utah in a weekend series (4/5-6). In the first game, OU defeated SUU, 2-0, as the Golden Grizzlies scored two runs on six hits. Going into the seventh inning Marzano was on pace for her second no-hitter of the season until Mid-Con Player of the Year Lacee LePrey hit a single to second base to breakup the no-no. Leading OU offensively was Utecht who was a perfect 3-3 from the plate. On the mound for OU, Marzano pitched all seven innings, allowing only one hit while striking out 11 T-Birds. In the second game of the day, SUU got revenge when the Thunderbirds scored four runs in the first inning and went on to win 5-3. Oakland opened the final day of the series dropping the third game, 6-0, to the T-Birds. In the fourth and final game of the series, Oakland was able to capture its second win of the weekend. The Golden Grizzlies defeated SUU, 8-5. Leading OU offensively was Voss going 2-3 from the plate with three RBI, including a two-run homer. Also chipping in was Seffens who went 3-4 from the plate. On the mound for OU, Marzano pitched a complete game, allowing five runs on nine hits and she struck out eight. Oakland Record: 10-25-1
On April 9 Oakland set sail to Ypsilanti to battle Mid-American Conference opponent Eastern Michigan. EMU handed OU its 26th and 27th losses of the season, 1-0 and 6-3. The next day Oakland traveled south down M-23 to Toledo to face the Rockets in a doubleheader. UT blanked OU, 6-0, in the first game and Oakland was kind enough to return the favor and shut out the Rockets in the second game by the same score. Leading OU in the nightcap was Piar and Bozenna Johnson as they were both 2-4 from the plate with one run scored. Marzano recorded her fourth win of the year as she pitched a complete game, only allowing five hits. Oakland Record: 11-28-1
The Golden Grizzlies returned home to host Mid-Con member IUPUI for a weekend series, April 12-13. Oakland completed its first sweep of the year against a conference foe as OU claimed all four victories, 8-2, 9-3, 8-1 and 4-3. In the four-game span, OU tallied 40 hits against the Jaguars. Oakland Record: 15-28-1, 7-5 Mid-Con
Oakland hosted the Spartans of Michigan State on April 16 at the OU Softball Field. The Golden Grizzlies were looking to avenge the 10-inning 2-1 loss earlier in the season against the Spartans. Michigan State denied OU in the first game defeating the Golden Grizzlies, 4-0. In the second game, OU was able to top the Spartans defeating MSU, 4-2. Despite being out-hit Oakland scored four runs on four hits, while MSU scored two runs on seven hits. Oakland Record: 16-29-1
Oakland resumed Mid-Con play as the Golden Grizzlies traveled to Valparaiso, Indiana to battle conference foe Valparaiso, April 19-20. Looking to sweep Valpo, the Golden Grizzlies won the first three games from the Crusaders, but dropped the fourth and final game. In the first game Oakland tallied nine hits and went on to win 6-2. In the day's final game, OU claimed victory as the Golden Grizzlies won 2-0. Leading OU was Marzano as she tossed her second no-hitter of the year. She was one walk away from throwing a perfect game. In the third game, Valpo almost came back to defeat Oakland scoring one run in the bottom of the seventh. Fortunately for OU, the Golden Grizzlies held on for the 3-2 win. Leading OU was Piar who hit a solo home run to spark the Golden Grizzlies. In the fourth game, Oakland got on the board early and took a 2-0 lead in the second inning. VU scored one run in the fifth and two runs in both the sixth and seventh innings to spoil the Grizzlies hopes for a sweep and handed OU a 5-3 defeat. Oakland Record: 19-30-1, 10-6 Mid-Con
Oakland returned home for its last homestand of the 2002 season and hosted Western Illinois in a weekend series April 26-27. The Golden Grizzlies and Westerwinds split the series with OU taking games one and three, and WIU claiming games two and four. In the first game, Oakland posted a 7-2 win over the defending conference champs, but dropped the second game, 5-4. Oakland started off on the right foot on the second day of the series winning 4-0. WIU spoiled OUs hopes of ending the home season on a high note as the Westerwinds mercied the Golden Grizzlies 12-4. Oakland Record: 21-32-1, 12-8 Mid-Con
To round out the season and get more experience before the conference tournament, OU traveled to Chicago to face the 18th-ranked DePaul Blue Demons in a doubleheader, April 29. In the first game, DePaul blanked OU 5-0 and held the Golden Grizzlies to five hits. In the second game, Oakland took a 1-0 lead into the sixth inning, but DePaul exploded for four runs and went on to win, 4-1. Oakland Record: 21-34-1
In the final game of the regular season, Oakland traveled to South Bend, Indiana to battle Notre Dame, April 30. The Fighting Irish blasted OU, 16-0, to send the Golden Grizzlies home with a 21-35-1 regular season record.
Entering the Mid-Continent Conference Tournament, Oakland was the number two seed behind the regular season champs UMKC. In the first game, OU downed Southern Utah, 4-1, to advance to play UMKC in the second round. In the victory Piar was 2-3 from the plate with two RBI and one run scored. On the mound for OU, Marzano collected her ninth win of the year as she threw five innings and allowed one run on five hits. In the second round game, Oakland tabbed its first loss of the tournament as UMKC downed the Golden Grizzlies, 4-0, to send OU to the losers bracket. Newcomer of the Year, UMKCs Lindsey Davis blanked OU as she pitched six and a half innings and gave up only one hit.
In the tourney's second day, OU found itself down 5-0 against Western Illinois heading into the fourth inning. Oakland exploded for seven runs in the inning to take the 7-5 lead. OU was led by second baseman Nina Catanzaro, who hit a grand slam home run. WIU scored to runs in the bottom of the fourth to tie the game at 7-7. Going into the ninth inning the score was tied at 7-7 and OU's Burns hit a solo home run to give the Golden Grizzlies the 8-7 victory. Leading OU offensively was Burns as she was 3-4 from the plate with two RBI. Collecting the win on the mound for OU was Voss as she pitched two innings giving up only one hit.
The Mid-Continent Conference Tournament Championship game pitted the conferences' top two seeds, number one UMKC and the number two seed Oakland, against each other. Both teams were tied at 1-1 in the fourth inning. Oakland broke the tie in the sixth inning as Burns once again hit the game-winning home run to force a second championship game. Leading OU in the 2-1 victory was Piar who hit 2-3 from the plate, including a solo home run that put OU on the board. Anderson collected her fourth win of the season as she pitched two scoreless innings and struck out two. In the second game both teams held each other scoreless for seven straight innings, forcing the game to the eighth inning. Oakland successfully retired UMKC in the top of the eighth and looked to seal the game in the bottom of the eighth. Oaklands Utecht doubled to right centerfield to score pinch runner Valene Hair to win the game and advance OU to the NCAA Tournament.
Oakland concluded its season at the NCAA Region 6 Tournament in Ann Arbor, May 16-17. The Golden Grizzlies posted the school's firstever win in an NCAA Tournament as OU defeated Canisius 3-1. Oakland was ousted by Central Michigan, 2-1, to end the Golden Grizzlies season.
Along with appearing in their first NCAA Tournament, the Golden Grizzlies were honored with five players named to the All-Conference and All-Tournament teams. Heading up the All-Conference first team were Burns, Marzano and Voss. Earning second team All-Conference honors were Piar and Seffens. Oakland sported five players on the Mid-Con All-Tournament team ... Burns, Anderson, Catanzaro, Piar and Utecht. Burns was the tournaments Most Valuable Player.
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