Softball off to best start in program history

After+missing+last+season+due+to+a+medical+injury%2C+Erin+Kownacki+returned+to+the+mound+this+weekend.+In+her+return%2C+she+threw+a+complete+game+shutout+against+Boston+University+on+Feb.+18.
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Softball off to best start in program history

After missing last season due to a medical injury, Erin Kownacki returned to the mound this weekend. In her return, she threw a complete game shutout against Boston University on Feb. 18.

After missing last season due to a medical injury, Erin Kownacki returned to the mound this weekend. In her return, she threw a complete game shutout against Boston University on Feb. 18.

Archived// Jose Juarez// Oakland Athletics

After missing last season due to a medical injury, Erin Kownacki returned to the mound this weekend. In her return, she threw a complete game shutout against Boston University on Feb. 18.

Archived// Jose Juarez// Oakland Athletics

Archived// Jose Juarez// Oakland Athletics

After missing last season due to a medical injury, Erin Kownacki returned to the mound this weekend. In her return, she threw a complete game shutout against Boston University on Feb. 18.

Katie LaDuke, Staff Reporter

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To say the least, Oakland softball had a promising opening weekend in Florida. The Golden Grizzlies ended the weekend with a record of 4-1, picking up wins against Quinnipiac University, Boston University, University of North Dakota and University of Massachusetts.

“Our pitching staff was awesome, and they kept us in all of the games,” head coach Connie Miner explained. “Our short game and our speed really made a difference,” head coach Connie Miner explained. “We put a lot of pressure on our opponents because of our speed, and we had a lot of really consistent hitting.”

In getting ready for the beginning of the season, the team focused on making sure everyone played as a cohesive unit, especially with the new freshmen coming onto the roster. Another main focus included making sure the offense and defense were both putting up equal numbers.

“Defensively and offensively, we’re pretty balanced,” Miner said. “Last year, we led the Horizon League in stats, and we expect to continue to do that. I thought the pitching staff did a great job of that this weekend. We really wanted to focus on bringing the new kids in the infield and in the outfield together to become a team.”

The Golden Grizzlies started their five-game series with a game against Quinnipiac University on Friday, Feb. 17. They came out on top, 8-7.

After starting on the mound, Haley Zemmer went four innings before handing the ball over to Kaley Waalkes to secure the win. Offensively, the designated hitter Mikayela Marciniak drove in a team high of two runs.

“I have really been working on the pitches I struggled hitting last year,” Marciniak said. “I’m a lot more confident than last year with hitting my outside pitches. I feel like I am able to cover more of the plate, and I have just been working on my whole confidence at the plate with knowing I don’t have to put all of the pressure on myself.”

Concluding Friday’s double header, the Black and Gold faced Boston University. On the mound, Erin Kownacki threw a complete game shutout and kept the BU offensive to only three hits. Newly transformed shortstop Jamie Squires put up the only run of the game in the fourth inning, with her first collegiate homer.

“I have really been working on playing shortstop going into the season,” Squires said. “I have never played shortstop before, so it’s a big difference going from third base to shortstop. [The homerun] felt amazing. I was not expecting it. As soon as I hit the ball, I knew it was a good hit, but I didn’t think it was going to go over.”

For the first game of Saturday’s double header, Oakland faced Villanova University. The Golden Grizzlies were first to put up runs in the top of the first inning, but Villanova answered with six of their own runs in the bottom of the inning. Villanova took the win with a score of 8-4.

Following its first loss of the weekend, the Black and Gold went up against the University of North Dakota. The Hawks put up one run in the top of the third inning, and the Golden Grizzlies came back with one run of their own in the bottom of the fifth.

The score remained tied until North Dakota put up another run in the top of the eighth inning. Oakland then scored two more runs with the help of a single by Kelsie Swanson and an error by North Dakota. In the pitching circle, Haley Zemmer stayed strong all eight innings to get the win.

“Mostly what I have been working on is perfecting my pitches and being consistent with my speed, especially with my injury last spring,” Zemmer said. “I think we played really well this weekend. There was a lot of positivity going around through the dugout, which helped a lot during the games. Everyone just picks each other up if they have a bad play. Everyone was playing loose and enjoying the games.”

Oakland played their final game in Madeira Beach against the University of Massachusetts and came out on top with a score of 2-1. In the bottom of the sixth inning, with the scored tied at 1, Marciniak delivered a sacrifice fly to score the go-ahead run. Kownacki played all seven innings to gain her second win of the series.

“This weekend, I think we played really well,” Marciniak said. “We played really relaxed, and we had a lot of fun with what we are doing. We played tight. We played good defense. And we had great timely hits.”

With their record now 4-1, the Golden Grizzlies are off to their best start in program history. Oakland faces Stetson University for a double header at 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. ET on Wednesday, Feb. 22 in DeLand, Florida.