Oregon Enters 2020 With Reloaded Pitching Staff
Jordan Dail became a workhorse for the Oregon Ducks last season. The left-handed Virginia Tech transfer ended up pitching over 70 percent of the team’s innings in 2019. That certainly didn’t seem like the plan for first-year head coach Melyssa Lombardi heading into the season. Nevertheless, it happened.
Lombardi was tasked with replacing the trio of Megan Kleist, Miranda Elish and Maggie Balint, who all transferred away from the program. She brought in Dail as well as Maddie MacGrandle from Texas A&M, but MacGrandle left the program midway through the season. Dail just kept pitching, and Lombardi even called upon position players Rachel Cid and Haley Cruse to get through a few frames.
This season, Lombardi has made sure to not put Dail in that position again. The former Oklahoma pitching guru added former UC Davis left-handed pitcher Brooke Yanez, the 2019 Big West Pitcher of the Year, and former New Mexico State right hander Samaria Diaz, the 2019 WAC Pitcher of the Year, to Oregon's 2020 pitching staff. Add in the Missouri Gatorade Player of the Year and Softball America’s 27th rated 2019 high school recruit, Makenna Kliethermes, and the Ducks are reloaded in the circle.
“Every year the journey is different,” Lombardi said. “Last year our pitching didn’t have this depth. To have the depth and the experience this year it makes you feel a little more comfortable. To basically have four starters it allows you to do different things during the season.”
Yanez, who finished second among qualified Division I pitchers in earned run average (1.03) last season, has a chance to become a household softball name in Eugene. After the season she had and two more years of eligibility, Yanez became one of the most attractive names in the transfer portal. Ultimately, she made her decision based primarily on one person.
“The main reason I chose Oregon was because of Coach Lombardi,” Yanez said. “The first time I had talked to her over the phone she was very welcoming. She laid down what she wanted in a player and what this program can do if I were to be a part of it. I knew if I were to go to her I would learn more, throw more and just be a better player overall.”
Diaz made quite the jump in her junior season at New Mexico State, as she posted a 2.10 ERA and a 16-9 record in 177 innings. But in her short time with Lombardi, she’s already making strides to improve upon those numbers.
“She’s definitely taught me how to use my tools more. I’m a very tall pitcher (with) long arms, so I feel like she taught me some things to be more successful than before,” the 5-foot-10 Diaz said.
Lombardi split her four arms to each side, a pair of lefties and a pair of righties. Each has her own skillset, and in Lombardi's second season at the helm of the program, she is excited about the way each pitcher can feed off of one another.
“What I love is all four of them, including Makenna as well, they’re all so different that they give different looks,” Lombardi said. “Them as a group is going to force the opponent to have to prepare for all four. Last year the opponent could just prepare for Jordan for the most part, and that’s not the case this year. They’re going to have to do their homework on all four.
“If we’re going along in a game and one is throwing well and gets into a jam, and someone comes into relief, for me the opponent is going to have to start all over.”
Both Yanez and Diaz described themselves each as ultimate competitors, excited to face off against the best the Pac-12 has to offer. The goal to hit as few bumps as possible during the transition is helped by the guidance of Dail, who was in their shoes a season ago. She’s offered advice to Yanez and Diaz, even offering to catch them at times.
“She’s always providing help,” said Yanez about Dail. “Her demeanor has also really helped. The way she goes about things is really good. It’s a really good influence on me not being in the Pac-12 so far. For her to have that experience already, and for me to pick off from that, is really nice to have.”
The two transfers have also established a connection. Unlike most situations, Yanez and Diaz are roommates. A dynamic that’s accelerated the staff’s growth together, and they’ve made it clear there’s no competition between the two.
“Brooke has a great personality,” Diaz said. “We meshed really well coming in. It wasn’t a pitcher’s fight...Me and Brooke complement each other very well. We’re great friends outside of softball. It’s great because if you have a bad day at practice or something you come home and you have someone to pick you up.”
Oregon finished 22-30 last season after enduring tremendous player turnover. This season, the roster that includes Yanez and Diaz enters the season ranked 25th by Softball America and has plenty of hope to make some noise on the national scene.
“Generally, all of us want to make a statement for Oregon softball,” Yanez said. “Especially with Coach Lombardi being the new coach in her second year (and) with the things they went through last year, all of us, including myself, as a program want to make a statement that Oregon softball is still here.”