Seven women out.
Oregon’s softball program began practices shorthanded last week after a devastating offseason of attrition.
“We have 17 (players), and this is what we’re going to go through the season with,” first-year coach Melyssa Lombardi said before taking the field with the Ducks on Jan. 15 at Jane Sanders Stadium.
On Monday, the news broke that Maggie Balint will be the seventh player to transfer out of the program since Mike White’s departure for Texas, leaving the defending Pac-12 champions with only two pitchers on the roster.
"It is with a very heavy heart I am sorry to announce that I am no longer going to be playing softball at the University of Oregon,” Balint posted on social media Tuesday. “Due to a lack of trust and must frustration over the last 6 months I have found myself questioning if Oregon is a good fit for me. So after careful consideration I’ve decided to that I need to move on.”
Now Lombardi will have to trust sophomore transfers Jordan Dail and Maddie MacGrandle in the circle.
Dail posted a 6-10 record and a 3.07 earned-run average over 24 appearances (14 starts) last season at Virginia Tech. MacGrandle (5-1, 2.60 ERA) struck out 27 batters in 35 innings at Texas A&M.
“Both newcomers spin the ball and create speed changes,” Lombardi said of the lefties.
If the 2018 rotation remained intact, Oregon would have had one of the nation’s most decorated and experienced pitching staffs.
Reigning Pac-12 pitcher of the year Megan Kleist (21-7, 1.32 ERA) is still taking classes at Oregon with plans to play her senior season at Louisiana at Lafayette in 2020. Miranda Elish (25-2, 1.20 ERA) is one of four ex-Ducks now playing for White at Texas.
Balint, an all-Pac-12 first team selection after posting a 21-3 record with a 1.22 ERA as a freshman in 2017, had a chance to get back in the spotlight after battling through a back injury last season before her late departure.
“I’m thrilled about the athletes that are here,” Lombardi said. “I can’t wait for us to get started. I can’t say enough about all of the hard work they put in and their commitment. We’re ready to get rolling for the ’19 season.”
The Ducks already had some big bats to replace in the lineup with the graduation of catcher Gwen Svekis (17 home runs, 60 RBIs) and shortstop DJ Sanders (16 home runs, 51 RBIs).
Then, centerfielder Shannon Rhodes (11 home runs, 42 RBIs), catcher Mary Iakopo (eight home runs, 37 RBIs) and postseason standout Lauren Burke (three home runs, 17 RBIs) all transferred to Texas.
Lombardi expects junior Mia Camuso (one home run, 24 RBIs) and senior April Utech (four home runs, nine RBIs) to take advantage of their opportunities to drive in runs in the middle of the order.
Junior Haley Cruse, who hit .377 last season, and senior Alexis Mack (.369) will continue to set the table at the top of the lineup after combining to steal 34 bases in 2018.
“I think this year is really about coming together and figuring out our identity as a team and program,” Cruse said.
Camuso, the starting first baseman, will lead an infield that also lost star third baseman Jenna Lilley and steady second baseman Lauren Lindvall to graduation.
Freshmen are likely to win the starting jobs at third base (Rachel Cid), shortstop (Jasmine Sievers), second base (Hannah Galen or Allee Bunker) and catcher (Arizona State transfer Terra McGowan).
“We have a young infield, and a lot of people keep asking me if I’m nervous about that. I’m not,” Lombardi said. “I’m confident in all of our athletes and I’m excited to see what they’re going to bring in their college career.”
Cruse, Mack and senior Cherish Burks bring experience and speed to the outfield.
Oregon will have to lean on small ball and solid defense to compete in the Pac-12 after having a championship roster gutted over the last three months.
All 16 remaining players will have to contribute to help Lombardi calm the storm during her first season coaching the Ducks.
“Honestly, Oregon has always been engraved into my brain that it’s home, and I could not imagine leaving here,” Sievers said. “The fans, the atmosphere, it’s so great here. But everyone has to do what makes them happy.
“Obviously, I respect everyone and their decisions, but we always support one another.”