Chemistry found in the toughest challenges


Eight players are hitting above .300 and as a team, they are hitting just below that mark.

The Oakland softball team opened Horizon League play on March 20-21 with two victories over the UIC Flames, extending their record to 11-14 overall and 2-1 in conference play.

The Grizzlies have been on the road almost every weekend since preseason play started on Feb. 6.  They played in North Carolina, Florida, Ohio and Illinois against tough division 1 opponents like Purdue, Miami of Ohio and Dayton.

Head coach Connie Miner purposely schedules challenging teams to face in the preseason to better prepare the team for league play.

“I think when you go out and schedule like that, when you come back, you’re in a better position for success,” Miner said. “You need to be challenged to find out what you’re really made of. They’ve really responded well this year.”

The time spent on the road also helped build the team’s chemistry.

During the spring break trip to Florida where the team played in tournaments at Florida Gulf Coast University and the University of South Florida, Miner noticed the team becoming closer than they were before.

“When you can be on the same page, have respect for each other and have each other’s back, great things are going to happen,” she said. “I see them really believing in each other and having faith in each other.”

She credits the success of the season so far to the fact that everybody on the roster is contributing.

“In the 11-inning win against UIC, I think I only had one sub left to go too,” Miner said.

“They are all doing so much for each other. I just have this calmness and confidence about the whole team. It’s fun to just sit back and watch.”

Offensively, eight players are hitting above .300 and as a team, they are hitting just below that mark.

Seniors Sarah Cupp and Courtnee Johnson, junior Sarah Hartley and freshmen Julia Morales and TJ Bindus are all hitting exceptionally well.

Although offense has been the strength, the team has focused on being more consistent on defense and so far, their efforts have been successful.

The pitching staff of senior Kayla Hensel, juniors Erin Kownacki and Laura Pond, sophomore Kaley Waalkes and freshman Haley Zemmer work well together because their styles complement each other.

Kownacki earned Horizon League pitcher of the week for March 16-22 after she threw two consecutive complete games with a 1.56 ERA and eight strikeouts in the team’s two victories over UIC.

Overall, Miner is proud of how far the program has come since she first arrived at Oakland in 2012.

“They are doing such an outstanding job both on and off the field,” she said.

“They have worked so hard and bought into what I am trying to do with them and the program. They deserve all of the credit and focus.” 

The team plays a doubleheader today against Youngstown State.

If field and weather conditions permit, the Grizzlies will play at home April 3-4 against Valparaiso – their first home game this season.

The team is also hosting their second annual raffle softball raffle on April 18. Tickets can be bought from the O’rena or from any softball player for $20 and will be entered into a drawing for prizes including TVs, tablets, Tigers tickets and giftcards. Being present at the raffle is not necessary to win.

100 percent of the proceeds go to the softball team.