Jordon Banfield leads Oakland Baseball to first winning season in decades


Photo courtesy of Jose Juarez, OU Athletics

The Oakland baseball team started their season with an impressive opening series victory against CSU-Bakersfield.

It was a historic season for the Oakland University baseball team. For the first time in the 21st century, the Golden Grizzlies finished with a winning record. 

Oakland’s 31-27 overall record propelled it to a second-place finish in the Horizon League, both in the regular season and in the conference tournament. The Golden Grizzlies posted an 18-11 mark in the conference to secure the No. 2 seed in the league tournament.

The second-seeded Golden Grizzlies headed to Dayton, Ohio in late May, in search of a tournament championship and a spot in the NCAA Tournament. 

However, the legendary season came to a close in Dayton, as the Golden Grizzlies ran out of luck.

The Horizon League Tournament started in victorious fashion with a 2-0 victory over Youngstown State. The Penguins committed a costly error in the seventh inning which allowed two runs, and Oakland starter Quinton Kujawa pitched a wonderful game.

In Kujawa’s 7.0 innings of work, he allowed only three hits, struck out six batters and gave up no runs. Kujawa’s monster performance was enough to will Oakland on to the second round. 

Awaiting Oakland in the second round of the conference tournament was the No. 1 seed Wright State Raiders. Despite the Raiders being the top-seeded team in the conference, Oakland dominated the season series, winning four of the five matchups. 

However, Wright State clearly had Oakland’s number in the conference tournament. Led by two five-run innings, the Raiders tallied 15 hits in a 14-3 rout of the Golden Grizzlies. 

Thanks to the Horizon League Tournament’s double-elimination style, Oakland’s season was still alive. The Golden Grizzlies faced Youngstown State once again, in what was an elimination game for both teams.

Oakland was able to stave off elimination with a 4-2 victory over the Penguins. Each team brought home a run in the first inning, but Oakland’s two-run second inning proved to be the difference in the low-scoring affair. 

The Golden Grizzlies then found themselves in a familiar position. Wright State awaited Oakland once again, however, having already won the first matchup, the Raiders had the upper hand on the Grizzlies.

Oakland would have needed to beat Wright State twice to claim the Horizon League Tournament championship. However, that hypothetical scenario was quickly abolished. 

Wright State obliterated Oakland, 24-0, to claim the tournament championship.

Although the season ended in a crushing defeat, the team reached new heights in 2022 under head coach Jordon Banfield. In just his second full season with the team, Banfield was named Horizon League Coach of the Year.

In 2019, the last full season prior to Banfield’s arrival, the Golden Grizzlies posted an abysmal 11-37 record. In 2021, Banfield’s first season with the team, he led Oakland to a better, though still not great 18-29 record. 

Things seemed to have clicked in 2022. Oakland’s 31-27 record is good for one of the best seasons in program history, and the program is clearly headed in the right direction under Banfield’s tutelage. 

Banfield doesn’t deserve all of the credit, though. Brad Goulet was named to the All-Horizon League first team, while Brenton Phillips and Jared Miller made the All-Horizon League second team.

Perhaps the most impressive part of Banfield’s time at Oakland has been his ability to find and develop talent. That is clearly the case with freshman Brandon Nigh, who is undoubtedly a star in the making. 

Nigh, who is one of the youngest players on the team, was named to the All-Horizon League first team, the All-Horizon League freshman team and was named the Horizon League player of the year.

Nigh posted a .327 batting average, along with 35 hits and 32 RBIs in his 36 games played. 

If Banfield is able to consistently find and develop talent like he did with Nigh, Oakland will be a dangerous team in the years to come.