Season-ending thoughts

The Oakland University baseball team won’t be making the playoffs this year, but head coach John Musachio is not disappointed with his team’s play as the season winds to a close this week.

“We got what we expected from our guys,” Musachio said. “They fight, they claw, they play hard.”

“We did a lot of good things [this season],” said senior shortstop Andrew Stafford, whose .368 batting average leads the Golden Grizzlies. “But we didn’t play as well as we hoped or we could have.”

Oakland was picked to finish sixth in the Summit League preseason coaches’ poll back in February.

The Summit League Championship is in Tulsa, Okla., May 21-23 and only the top four teams in the conference will make the cut. With an 8-16 conference record, OU is currently seventh in the standings after being swept at home by Oral Roberts in which OU dropped three of four games.  

OU is 19-32 overall and still has four games left to play against Centenary, currently ranked third in the Summit League.

 Musachio, who was an assistant coach for two years before taking over as head coach last year, said that there’s a learning curve whenever a new system is put in place, but the team is starting to get comfortable and move in the right direction.

“They understand what the coaches are looking for,” Musachio said. “And it’s allowing them to be more reactive and more aggressive on the baseball field and that’s really what we want from them.”

Last year the team finished 15-30 with a 7-14 conference record. Musachio said they’ve been more competitive this year, winning games against talented teams.

The Grizzlies began the season on the road, playing 12 games across four different states. Five early season games in February against Eastern Kentucky had to be canceled, interrupting any momentum the team may have gained from their season opening win Feb. 21.

The team made its home debut against Rochester College March 18, winning 12-6 at the OU baseball field.

Oakland’s 6-5 victory over Notre Dame  March 25 was its first win against the Fighting Irish since joining Division I athletics in 1998. Oakland also put together an 11-run rally to pull off a come-from-behind victory May 8 against Oral Roberts, the top-ranked team in their conference. It was their first win against Oral Roberts since 2005 and just their third ever.

In addition to their efforts on the field, the team placed an emphasis on academic success. They won an OU community service award and earned a collective 3.15 GPA this past semester.

“We need to continue what we’ve done in the classroom and in the community and take that next step and compete for a championship,” Musachio said.

The team will be losing eight seniors to graduation at season’s end. Justin Wilson’s departure will create a void in centerfield for the first time in four seasons. Wilson broke the school’s career hits record March 14, and leads the Golden Grizzlies with 12 home runs.

Senior infielder Rob Merkle has received two consecutive Academic All-District selections and slugged six home runs this season. The team will also miss the steady play of first baseman Taylor Traub and outfielder Dan Ryan.

But Musachio said he is confident he’ll find leadership in the underclassmen that will return next year. Several key contributors from this season will be back, including pitcher Matt LaMothe and outfielder Tim Ryan.

Musachio said he is looking forward to bringing in a strong recruiting class for next season. Stafford said that Musachio’s personality has been a great recruiting tool, helping to bring in talent.

“We’re going to be young [next season],” Musachio said. “But we think that’s a pretty good thing.”

Jonathan Zalenski, a fifth-year senior, said this year’s team has left a mark on the school’s baseball program.

“I think we’ve left something here that we’re going to build on and keep getting better and better,” Zalenski said.