Oakland softball season comes to an early end

Oakland’s softball will have to wait until next spring in order to make run for a league title. They ended  their season with a record of 13-31 overall, 8-14 in conference play.


The Golden Grizzlies started their season as defending Horizon League Champions but with a young team and two seniors this past season the Golden Grizzlies were young and had limited depth on their roster. They were unable to make it back to the tournament ending their season early and were not able to defend their title.


“I was heart broken. I think I still am. When I woke up for Senior Day against UIC I did not think I was going to be playing my last softball game in an Oakland uniform,” said former senior Sarah Hartley in an email interview. “I had a tough time watching the tournament last week because I knew we should’ve been playing still.”


Oakland finished their season seventh in the conference and were one game shy of making it back to the tournament.


“It’s heartbreaking, for the whole team, said former senior Laura Pond.


Coming into the season Oakland did not have a lot of depth on their team. With half of their team being new, Oakland had to play rely on their younger players throughout the season.


“Starting six or seven freshman, if you think about it we did some pretty amazing things,” said head coach Connie Miner.


Regarding to the number of freshmen that played in the starting lineup this season.


At one point during the season Coach Miner almost had her whole infield and outfield filled with young players. For that reason, her players were able to gain the experience needed to play division one softball.  


“I’ve had young teams before but never started six or seven freshman before and I am proud of what they did, we just came up a game short,” said Coach Miner.


The Golden Grizzlies had 14 one-run games this season losing eight of those games.  

The players started to show some of the experience that they had learned against teams such as Wright State beating them 8-1 and out-hitting University of Chicago towards the end of the season.


Players to lookout for season

Winning at the division one level is not an easy task to accomplish, winning with a young team can be just as hard. Oakland’s softball players were up to the task and were able to gain experience from all the playing time.


Coach Miner seemed to be proud of what her team accomplished during the season for being so young and the future of Oakland softball looks like it’s moving in the right direction.


One player that stood out this past season and was granted Horizon League second-team honors was Haley Zemmer.


Zemmer mostly pitched for the Golden Grizzlies in her second year with the program had a productive year.


She finished the season with a record of 10-14, had an ERA of 2.15 and struck out 96 batters. In conference play, she had an ERA of 1.66 and 62 strikeouts.


Coach Miner also had her swing the bat this year and she batted .218, 10 RBIs and hit her first career one home run.


Zemmer had to take over as the number one pitcher for the Golden Grizzlies after Erin Kownacki’s season ended due to injury.


Brittney Miller a freshman this past season mostly played in the infield for the Golden Grizzlies. She is another player who had a productive year as she was named to the all-freshman team.


Miller batted .350, had 25 RBIs and hit three home runs. Miller’s first career home run also counted as a grand slam against Ava Maria.


Along with hitting the ball, Miller played solid defense for the Golden Grizzlies and finished the season with a fielding percentage of .973.


Erin Kownacki and Lindsay Lutton saw limited playing time this year but are expected to back next season.


Kownacki entered the season as the top pitcher in the Horizon League but  had her season end early due to injury. The year before she was named All-Horizon League First-Team selection.


Lindsay Lutton is another player that should be back next season, she missed this past season as well.


With Lutton’s size at 5 feet 8 inches tall she can cover the gap between second and third at shortstop. She has potential power at the plate to get some hits as well.


Coach Miner seemed to have high hopes for Lutton, who would battle for the starting position at shortstop for next season.


“She’s a wildcard because we have dealt with her health,” said Coach Miner, “She was a redshirt freshmen this year.”

Goodbye Sarah and Laura


Coach Miner came to Oakland in the Fall of 2012 and like any other coach new coach her goal was to win and with the help of Sarah and Laura they were able to accomplish that goal.


At the same time, Sarah Hartley and Laura Pond were freshman at Oakland and were extremely helpful towards Coach Miner in her first couple of months at Oakland.


“When I first got here, I coached by myself for a while so i was at the fields all day doing groups until i got my staff in place,” said Coach Miner. “Even as freshman they were willing to help, asked if i needed anything in the office because they knew i was by myself. So they were those kinds of freshman from the very beginning, not only about their team but about the coaching staff and about any way they could help us”.


Sarah Hartley started for Coach Miner all four years at shortstop and over those four years she accomplished a lot on the field.


Sarah’s career at Oakland is one that stands out. She played a total of 121 games and started every game. Sarah batted a career average of .312, had a slugging percentage of .505 and hit 20 home runs breaking the Oakland’s home run record.


In 2015 she hit a walk-off home run against Wright State that gave Oakland the program’s first Horizon League regular season title and eventually winning the Horizon League Tournament.


“That year felt like a fairytale,” Sarah said. “No one expected Oakland to come out and have the season we did.”


The season only got better for the Golden Grizzlies as they received an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.


“Then getting to play in the NCAA tournament in front of a sold out, crowd on national television was something I’ve always dreamed of doing since the 5th grade. It was awesome!”


Hartley, will be back next season for the Golden Grizzlies but not as a player. She will be returning as an Graduate Assistant.. She will also be starting her journey in Oakland’s Doctorate of Physical Therapy Program.


Similar to Hartley, Laura Pond played all four years under Coach Miner and played many positions.


Laura  Pond came to Oakland with a impressive defensive resume and kept that reputation at Oakland, as she spent most of her time as a utility player and as a pitcher.


Pond, had a fielding percentage of .977 in the four years she played. She pitched for the Golden Grizzlies and had a career ERA of 3.34 and struck out 154 batters.


Some of her top performances during her career include two complete game shutouts against Rhode Island in 2015 and Youngstown State in 2014. One of the biggest moments in her career came in 2015, when she hit her first career home run against the University of Michigan in the NCAA Tournament.


“When I hit the ball, I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t stop watching the ball thinking that I would remember that moment for my entire life,” Pond said.


The excitement from that home run did not stop there. The play made it onto SportsCenter and was named ESPN Sportscenter Top Home Run.


“It was really cool too because I had a lot of family and old coaches at that game too, so I’m glad I got to share that moment with them.” Pond said.


Even though her playing career at Oakland is over, Laura looks forwards to continue her education here at Oakland. She is currentlywaiting to hear back from the accelerated second degree nursing program here at Oakland.


Future of Oakland softball


With the season now over Oakland’s softball team will have an early summer and  the team will be getting ready for next season.


With the confidence from Coach Miner and the rest of the coaching staff; next season could be one that surprises everyone.