North Dakota started off the fall schedule with a game against MSU-Moorhead and Minot State at home on Sept. 8. UND easily handled the Dragons, 15-0 in five innings, and the Beavers, 8-2. UND then hosted in-state rival North Dakota State for a doubleheader on Sept. 14. UND then finished off the season with Mary and Minnesota Cookston at home, Sept. 22, before heading to Crookston, Minn., for a game against Bemidji State and another against the Golden Eagles, Oct. 6.
The eight games played during the non-championship segment are just exhibitions, but it allows for valuable assessment of what is in store for the upcoming year.
"They started the process of coming together as a team, and that showed in our last two games against Bemidji State and Minnesota Crookston," Oakley said. "We had some good team bonding moments, our freshmen got some good experience and everyone else started to get back into softball mode. So overall I think it was a successful fall season."
With seven freshman and one sophomore transfer, the eight games provided a chance for the new players to get used to their new team, and to get some game experience before starting things off in the spring.
"Kaylin VanDomelen pitched very well this fall," Oakley remarked. "She did very well against North Dakota State, giving up just two runs, one which was unearned. Against Mary she had to go nine innings and she gave up a couple runs late. The other two games she pitched, she just dominated."
Of the other freshman pitchers Oakley was also optimistic from what he saw.
"Megan Hedstrom and Sophie Pratt both did really well, the only game those two struggled in was against North Dakota State; and that's just learning that their pitches have movement and it's learning to get it a little further off the plate. After North Dakota State they made the adjustment and did well after that."
"Kaylin looks like she has been playing this level for three years already. Her, Megan and Sophie all had a lot of confidence in the circle this fall."
Sophomore transfer Kim Granata, coming in from Kent State, brought some stability to the catching position for UND. Additionally, Oakley was glad to see to seem some budding competition at the position.
"Adding competition always helps; we brought Kim in to be our starting catcher and that's still the plan, but I think some of the other catchers really saw that and started picking their level up a bit. That's why you have competition for positions, because it makes everyone else better. Our catching looked good, both Kim and Elizabeth Cudney did well this fall, threw some runners out and had a lot of control behind the plate."
With the return of Amanda Johnson and Nicole Babrowski in the outfield, Oakley only needed to find a potential fit at left to complete the outfield lineup. And after a few games, it looks like he may have found his left field in D Jantzer.
"We were looking at D to be our designated player this year, but we think that we might put her in left field instead. That way we still have her batting in the lineup and it leaves us room to bring in someone else to be DP. Left field was kind of a question mark entering the fall, but she stepped up wanting to play there and did for the last two games, and she looked really good. So with D, Amanda and Nicole the outfield should be set."
In the infield, freshman Jackie Lilek played third base in six of the eight fall games and looks to be a lock at the position. The job at short stop should rotate between Caralyn Chewning and Autumn Cervantez when Chewning is pitching. First base should also be a lock for Oakley with returning sophomore Emily Bell.
However, three players saw time at second base this fall and that job still remains open.
"At second base, we're still getting a look at some options since Toni Schutte hasn't been able to play there as much as we've wanted to. Both Rachael Waynick and Taylor Hansen had some sort of injury at some point, so all three rotated through there; which is good because all three need to get a look there, since that's going to be a competition at that spot"
"Overall the big competition is for second base and then DP. For DP, Courtney Gonzales hasn’t been healthy all fall, so when she's okay to go I'm pretty sure she's got a good shot at that spot."
With the fall season now in the past, Oakley takes his team into the winter to begin training for the 2014 season which begins Feb. 21 with a trip to the Florida Gulf Coast Round Robin in Fort Myers, Fla.