Oakland softball begins 11-game homestand

After playing games exclusively on the road for the first month of the season, the Oakland University softball team is finally headed back to Rochester.

The Grizzlies hope the home opener  on March 23 against a University of Toledo squad that has seen its own struggles will be a boost to a group that has battled through the first 20 games with a 5-15 (1-5 Summit League) record.

“The (home) opener is important because that’s where the fan base really starts to come in. You start winning a few games, grabbing everybody’s attention and getting them to the games,” said head coach LaDonia Hughes. “The more fans there are, the more pumped up the girls are; they know there are supporters and that Oakland softball is on the right road to being successful.”

Offensive production is sure to be a point of emphasis for Hughes during the team’s 11-game home stand. Through 20 games, OU has been outscored 89-64 and has scored three or fewer runs in 12 games.

Leading the team in runs batted in is junior Kylie Schalz with 14, including a grand slam in an 8-7 loss against Morehead State on March 4.

Last season, junior Kelsey Krych broke the school record for stolen bases in a single season. She could break the record again this year, as she has been successful on 16 of 17 attempts this year.

Defensively, the Golden Grizzlies have a .911 team fielding percentage with 173 assists, but have also committed 53 errors.

The team primarily features three starting pitchers. Senior Marisa Everitt has allowed a team-low 16 earned runs. Senior Alison Tansel is second on the team with 36.1 innings pitched, and junior Brittany Doyle is sporting a 2:1 strikeout to walk ratio.

Despite the sub-.500 record, Hughes said effort has not been a problem with this team.

“Our girls are very relentless. It’s just that sometimes we aren’t sure when to use it,” Hughes said. “We’re having our battles right now with finishing games, but strengths will come.”

With 10 incoming freshmen, learning to play at the collegiate level has been a key focus for Hughes and her coaching staff.

“Our freshmen class is going to be interesting because we have some that are stepping up and some that go out and are a little nervous with this being their first year,” Hughes said. “It’s tough for them sometimes, but I think with the help of the upperclassmen, they’ve relaxed a little bit and know that it’s okay to make errors — you just have to work through it instead of putting more pressure on yourself.”

Hughes is in a similar situation to the freshmen with this being her first year at Oakland. She was an assistant coach on a Western Illinois squad that won the Summit League conference title in three of her four years at the school.

Hughes thinks that coming to Oakland from within the conference has both advantages and disadvantages.

“It definitely helps but it also can get a little complicated because you think you know each and every team, but they all get better each and every year, so you have to improve no matter what,” Hughes said.

The Grizzlies will also play a doubleheader against Detroit Mercy on March 24.