Injuries, Inexperience Slow Down Golden Grizzlies In 2004

After losing nine seniors off a team that had claimed back-to-back Mid-Continent Conference titles and their corresponding trips to the NCAA Tournament, the expectations for the Oakland softball team for 2004 were understandably subdued. With a roster filled with

Nicole Marzano earned All-Mid-Con honors for a third straight year for OU in 2004.

players with little or no collegiate playing experience, a third straight conference crown would be a challenge for the Golden Grizzlies. But no one could have foreseen how hard the injury bug would bite the team, but it did, and combined with the inexperience of the squad, the end result was an 11-42 overall record and a 3-21, seventh-place finish in the Mid-Con.

At the start of the season OU knew it was walking a fine line, with essentially only two pitchers to start the season with. But one of them was the 2003 Mid-Con Pitcher of the Year, junior Nicole Marzano. She picked right up where she left in off in 2003 in Oaklandís opener against Indiana State at the UT-Martin tournament, throwing a brilliant one-hit, 10 strikeout gem against the Sycamores. She also helped her own cause at the plate, hitting a two-run home run as Oakland prevailed 5-0 to start the season with a win.

From there Oakland played well in the beginning part of the schedule. Playing mostly in tournament settings in the first month of the season, the Golden Grizzlies found themselves with a 6-8 record going into March, with four of their losses coming by only one run.

After a two-week break at the beginning of March, Oakland played three games at the Ohio State tournament in very cold conditions. Despite the weather, the Golden Grizzlies came up with a pair of wins, again behind the pitching of Marzano. She threw pair of shutouts, blanking Loyola-Chicago and Northern Illinois by identical 2-0 scores. Sophomore Camie Knorr drove in both runs against the Ramblers and Marzano again helped herself, smacking her third home run of the season against the Huskies. Going into the start of Mid-Con play the Golden Grizzlies found themselves with an 8-9 record.

Traveling to Centenary for the first Mid-Con series of the season against the conference newcomers, Marzano did it again, throwing her third straight complete-game shutout against the Ladies. She allowed only two hits over 10 innings, striking out 11 as OU took advantage of a Centenary throwing error in the 10th inning to pull out a 2-0 win. Centenary, the eventual Mid-Con Tournament champion, then bounced back to take the next three to take the series.

Sophomore Camie Knorr led OU in RBIs, triples, home runs, runs, slugging and walks.

Then the bottom fell out on OUís season. A rash of injuries began to take their toll as the Golden Grizzlies lost a pitcher and half of their starting infield in short order. More injuries also occurred, with the result that the team found itself reduced to just 12 players in some games. Down to only four players with significant playing time from the year before, OUís offense struggled to score runs and the team was shutout in eight of the next nine games after the opening win at Centenary.

Oakland could not buy a win after coming back from Louisiana and the Golden Grizzlies did not taste victory again for over a month, dropping a record 31 straight games. Going into the final weekend of the season at UMKC, OU finally snapped the streak in the second game of the series, taking a 5-3 win. Knorr led the way to the victory, slamming a two-run homer that provided the winning run and picking up the win on the mound by allowing only one earned run and five hits. Oakland won again the next day, taking a 3-1 win in eight innings behind Marzanoís pitching and junior Christina Schulteís two RBIs before closing the season with a tough, 13-inning loss to the Kangaroos.

Marzano earned All-Mid-Con honors for a third straight season after finishing among the league leaders in strikeouts (125) and holding opposing hitters to just a .210 batting average. Junior Toni Salo led OU in hitting with her .285 average in her first season and also led the squad in steals with 13 from her leadoff position in the batting order. Knorr wound up playing at a number of positions and led Oakland with 19 RBIs and 24 runs scored while tying for the team lead with Marzano with three home runs.

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