The following article first appeared on D1Softball.com. For more like it, you can use coupon code NCAA2021 to get a 20% discount for an annual subscription to DIBaseball.com or D1Softball.com.
Each day, Melyssa Lombardi pulls up to the Jane Sanders Stadium, nicknamed "The Jane," and is in awe of the stadium. She feels she is pulling up to a professional stadium with the combination of the athletic department, facilities and equipment the program receives.
However, with all the bells and whistles, Lombardi is clear about one thing, “If you want to be the best, you have to flat out beat the best.”
EXTRA INNINGS: The longest games in WCWS college softball history
In just her third season at the helm, Lombardi and the Ducks are full steam ahead with fall workouts continuing and the 2021 campaign on the horizon.
First, let’s take a look back at the shortened 2020 season, as the Ducks found great success and started to gel just as the season came to an abrupt halt.
2020 season review
With just two losses in the shortened season, Oregon (re)entered the national scene after a down 2019 season. Our 2020 D1Softball Preseason poll ranked the Ducks at No. 19 after a 22-30 season, and they did not disappoint. The Ducks finished the year as the only team in the country to rank in the top 15 in batting average (8th – .350), ERA (11th – 1.62) and fielding percentage (2nd – .986), proving they belonged back on the big stage.
With an electric offense and a Swiss Army knife type of pitching staff, the Ducks were a fun squad to watch. In speaking with head coach Melyssa Lombardi, the pride was evident in her voice when asked about the 2020 Oregon Ducks.
“The first thing I think about is how quickly and how often we scored. We would come right out of the gates and score,” said Lombardi, “It seemed like it was every game, it wasn’t every game, but it seemed like it.”
The Ducks scored early and often, due in part to senior Haley Cruse in the leadoff spot. Cruse hit .457 in the shortened season and stole 15 bags in just 24 games. Add in some clutch at-bats from Rachel Cid (.387 AVG/27 RBI/7 HR), and it’s no surprise the Ducks outscored opponents 173-40.
On the mound, their numbers were just as good, if not better. As a pitching staff, the Ducks recorded a 1.62 ERA and limited opposing teams to a .187 average. Lombardi spoke volumes about how the staff worked seamlessly and unselfishly as a collective unit.
“[The pitching staff] worked hard at helping each other on the field,” said Lombardi. “Jordan Dail, the only returner, did a great job helping the others understand — what to do when we watch video, in bullpens, specific drills that are just our absolutes and why we do it. I really like how they let their guards down and let each other help.”
Jordan Dail went 5-1 with 2.39 ERA with three complete games and two saves. The junior lefty locates the zone, giving up just seven walks in 167 at-bats. Brooke Yanez threw the most innings out of the rotation, compiling a 1.56 ERA in 62.2 innings of work. The UC Davis transfer led the team in wins (9), strikeouts (94), appearances (15), opposing batting average (.172) and tied for saves (2). Another transfer, Samaria Diaz (New Mexico State) shined in the circle for the Ducks, going 8-0 with 1.00 ERA, 53 strikeouts in 42 innings.
“I liked that all four of them were so different. We had four different looks. Anytime you have a pitcher on the mound that likes to compete, I feel really good about what’s going to happen in that game,” said Lombardi. “I thought they were all competitors on the mound and great teammates as well. Total team effort. Truly excited about each other and what they were doing.”
The Ducks are back on the field and allowed to hold team practice. However, they must stay six feet away from one another and wear a mask at all times. Following Lane County guidelines, the Oregon Athletic Department has been in constant communication with the coaching staff and has provided all the information needed to keep the athletes and staff safe.
Looking at the upcoming season, the Pac-12 boasts a few super squads, and Oregon is one of them. The Ducks have depth at almost every position and gain versatility with an athletic freshman class.
“There are 25 players on the roster and normally we have 20-21,” said Lombardi. “One thing we like on this team, every single person on this roster has something to give the program.”
Lombardi is positive the freshmen will break into the lineup this season, she’s just not sure where.
“I think all of them are going to challenge the upperclassmen. Friendly competition that you like to see at practice every day,” said Lombardi. “We saw it last year, but you’re going to see it even more. It’s going to be amped up.”
The incoming freshman class includes utility player Tehya Bird, who swings the bat well from the right side, and utility Alyssa Brito who played third on her travel team and shortstop in high school. The right-handed hitter has a ton of pop at the plate. The Ducks also added a few lefties to their offense, including Hanna Delgado and Gabby Herrera. Delgado is a triple threat who can hit a ball in the gap, slap or drop a bunt.
The pitching staff remains the same, with returners Brooke Yanez, Samaria Diaz, Jordan Dail and Makenna Kliethermes.
“Jordan and Brooke are both left handed, and that’s probably the only thing they have in common. Their looks are just different. The way they throw different pitches and the way the pitch comes through the zone.”
However, the Ducks gain a true freshman right hander in Reagan Breedlove. The Lake Shasta native is a power pitcher and is an excellent addition to the staff. With a five-person rotation, Oregon will have the luxury of choosing from virtually any type of arm needed.
Alle Bunker returns at second after a stellar sophomore campaign batting .429 and one of 12 players in the conference to hit over .400. Bunker started 20 games at second and compiled six doubles, two home runs and 12 RBI.
Shortstop is up for grabs as sophomore Jasmine Sievers announced that she will be opting out of the 2021 season via social media, opening up the door for a few freshmen: Bird, Brito, Delgado and Herrera.
RBI leader, Rachel Cid started all 24 games at third in the shortened 2020 season and is back at the hot corner. Mya Felder is another option at the corner with 15 starts at first last season. Utility player Vallery Wong is always in the mix as she picked up 14 starts in five different positions last season.
Haley Cruse returns in centerfield for her Super Senior season to direct the outfield. Deijah Pangilinan, Ariel Carlson, Lexi Wagner and Hannah Galey all saw time in the outfield last season and will be vying for a starting spot.
It’s hard to locate the Ducks during tournaments with six different uniform top choices as the potential uniform combinations are dizzying. In speaking with Lombardi, she gives all the credit to Haley Cruse. Cruse is the resident wardrobe director, who chooses the threads of the day.
“No matter what the combination is, they are going to look great. I just let Haley take care of it,” said Lombardi. “Every time we come out on the field, we look totally different than we did the last time you saw us.”
One thing is for sure, no matter what the 2021 Ducks are wearing, they are still going to boast an explosive offense and dominant pitching staff.