Oregon 'Lets It Loose' At Kajikawa Classic
TEMPE, Arizona – Oregon coach Melyssa Lombardi and her Ducks, clad in all green from cap to cleat, waited patiently for their season debut on a grassy knoll behind the visitors’ dugout at Arizona State’s Farrington Stadium.
But as the Stanford-Bradley contest dragged, with Oregon’s Pac-12 rival scoring eight runs in the top of the seventh of a 12-5 victory, that patience began to wear thin.
“Come on,” Lombardi muttered quietly to herself. Her players had a little more trouble holding it in, with every walk or hit resulting in sighs and/or groans. After Oregon’s turbulent offseason, the lengthy delay seemed like a cruel joke.
“We were just patiently waiting,” Lombardi said. “You could see their bottled-up energy there, and then when they got on the field, they just let it loose.”
The first pitch was at 12:20 p.m. instead of the scheduled 11:30 a.m. Friday, but Oregon still put together a dominant performance in a 14-5 win over Kansas.
Cherish Burks, one of four Oregon seniors, ripped a two-out two-run single up the middle to take a 2-0 first-inning lead, and Rachel Cid, one of five freshman starters, hammered a three-run homer to center in the second. One of the other freshman starters, Hannah Galey, added two more home runs, and Oregon had a chance to end the game with a 10-1 run-rule victory in the sixth.
But pitcher Jordan Dail had trouble finishing in her first start since transferring from Virginia Tech, allowing two-run homers to each Sydnee Ramsey and Becki Monaghan, souring an otherwise near perfect outing, which included 10 strikeouts.
“I thought she pitched great,” Lombardi said. “She gave us an opportunity to win the ballgame, and that’s all I can ask for.”
The offense powered the Ducks through the weekend, leading to a 5-0 record with a 53-20 run differential.
It’s a promising start for Lombardi’s regime, which began its tenure being bombarded by transfer news.
The Ducks suffered 11 departures from last year’s roster, including eight underclassmen and all three pitchers. They only returned six players, five that had seen playing time and just one starter, junior outfielder Haley Cruse.
But with five Pac-12 titles and five Women’s College World Series appearances in the last eight seasons, the program’s expectations aren’t going anywhere; even if the architect of that success, coach Mike White, is now at Texas.
Lombardi was aware of that when she made the first change of her 22-year coaching career. Since graduating from Oklahoma in 1997, the former catcher bided her time by the side of her former coach, Patty Gasso, waiting for the ideal opportunity.
In Oregon, she sees potential, a proven program with excellent facilities, a pipeline to talent-rich California and a strong fan base in one of softball’s premier conferences.
Her flock -- not including outfielder Darya Kaboli-Nejad due to a season-ending ACL tear and catcher Terra McGowan who is “going through the process” of gaining eligibility after transferring from Arizona State -- are few in numbers but showed their potential with wins over Missouri and Seattle.
Oregon clobbered eight home runs over the weekend, batting .384 as a team, but perhaps more importantly, its pitching staff, made up of Dail and former Texas A&M lefty Maddie MacGrandle, stood its ground.
Dail bounced back with a complete game in a 6-1 win against Missouri, allowing just one run on six hits and two walks with six strikeouts.
“What I’ve known from her from day one is that she’s a competitor,” Lombardi said. “She’s not afraid to compete, and she’s not afraid to be on the grandest stage. Just that alone, I knew I needed to get her.”
Next up, Oregon travels to the St. Pete Clearwater Elite Invitational Clearwater, FL., where it faces perennial powers, No. 16 LSU and No. 20 James Madison Friday and No. 14 Kentucky Saturday, along with Florida Atlantic Saturday.