Oakland softball wins regular season conference title for first time in over a decade

Kaley Waalkes pitched her fourth win for the Golden Grizzlies. She also hit her first three-run home run of the season during the fourth inning.


The word could be found written in marker on the wrists of Oakland softball players, coaches, their fans and even athletic director Jeff Konya during the final series of the regular season on May 1-2 against Wright State.

Going into the weekend, the Grizzlies sat in first place in the league. They had to win at least two of the three games against the Raiders to clinch the Horizon League regular season title – something the program hasn’t done since 2001.

But the Grizzlies dropped the first two games of the series, suffering a 3-2 loss on Friday and a 2-1 loss in game one on Saturday.

With the two losses, a dramatic scenario for the league title developed.  

The Grizzlies had to win the final game of the series and University of Illinois-Chicago had to lose the final game of their series against Cleveland State, which was taking place at the same time, in order for Oakland to clinch first place and host the Horizon League tournament.

“We were unlucky with a couple calls, and that’s when you really have to battle,” head coach Connie Miner said. “After the first game, I said, ‘let’s get out there and play Oakland softball.’”

Wright State led 2-0 through four innings in the final game when sophomore Kaley Waalkes stepped to the plate. At designated player, she only had seven at bats and one hit this season for the Grizzlies.

With two on base and two strikes, an echoing “we believe” was heard from the stands right as Montana Wear of Wright State threw the pitch.

Waalkes connected on the pitch and lifted the ball over the fence in right field, hitting her first home run of the season and giving the Grizzlies the 3-2 lead.

But the Raiders responded in the fifth inning and tied the game 3-3. Both teams were scoreless through the sixth and seventh innings, forcing the late-Saturday afternoon game into extra innings.

Oakland held strong defensively in the top of the eighth with three straight outs.

The same “we believe” was heard from the Oakland stands as junior Sarah Hartley stepped to the plate for the Grizzlies in the bottom of the eighth.

The first pitch from Wear was thrown and Hartley blasted it over the fence in right field, hitting her 11th home run of the season – the most single-season home runs in program history ─ and giving the Grizzlies the 4-3 walk-off victory.

A celebration took place at home plate, but the real cheers were heard after UIC dropped the final game to Cleveland State minutes after the win, allowing Oakland to clinch a share of the Horizon League title with UIC.

“Everyone on this team is really important, they’ve all contributed to where we’re at right now,” Miner said. “When you just keep fighting and believing, good things happen.”

“Believe” was written on the wrists of players, coaches and fans this weekend because believing and having faith in one another, as well as proving those who doubted them wrong, was the focus this season.

The Grizzlies finished first in the league with a 14-6 league record and posted an overall record of 24-22, despite being picked to finish seventh in the preseason poll this year.

The Horizon League tournament will take place at the Oakland softball field from May 6-9. The No. 1 seeded Grizzlies will play Thursday, May 7 at noon against the winner of the Green Bay and Cleveland State game.