Melyssa Lombardi's team is off to a 7-2 start entering the Mary Nutter Classic
Before the season’s first pitch, Oregon softball coach Melyssa Lombardi said it was April Utecht’s time to shine.
The senior infielder, who has helped fill holes on the depleted roster by rotating at first base and catcher, came through with two shining moments during the Ducks’ 8-5 victory against then-No. 8 LSU last Friday in Clearwater, Fla.
Utecht drove in an RBI single and the decisive three-run home run to deliver the first signature win of Lombardi’s career at Oregon.
“I think that ball still has not landed. She got all of that one,” Lombardi said of Utecht’s titanic blast. “She’s one that I was really excited to see that happen for, just because she’s been putting in her time and waiting for her moments.
“I think the first weekend there was a couple times where she had her moments and wasn’t able to cash in. So it was nice to see her cash in.”
Oregon finished the St. Pete/Clearwater Elite Invitational, which was billed as a mini-Women’s College World Series given the caliber of programs in the field, 2-2 with losses to then-No. 23 James Madison and then-No. 18 Kentucky.
The Ducks (7-2), who moved up to No. 17 in the rankings, return to action Thursday at the Mary Nutter Classic in Cathedral City, Calif.
“I don’t want them to be surprised that they beat them. I want them to expect them to beat anybody that we step on the field (against),” Lombardi said of the win over the talented Tigers, who later handed former Oregon coach Mike White his first loss at Texas. “When we won it was nice to look around and see what the reaction was. I thought it was just them taking care of their business. I like that. It’s a good sign.”
Jordan Dail also has confidently stepped into the spotlight this season and threw a no-hitter during Oregon’s 2-0 victory over Florida Atlantic. The sophomore lefty is 5-0 with a 2.85 earned-run average over 39 1/3 innings.
Lombardi said she believes Maddie MacGrandle (2-2, 8.57 ERA), the other transfer she’s forced to lean on in the circle with the Ducks’ top three pitchers from 2018 all leaving the program during the coaching transition, will turn things around after a shaky start through her first six appearances at Oregon.
“I know she’s going to get there. She’s here for a reason,” Lombardi said of the sophomore southpaw who began her career at Texas A&M. “Right now with our season going on, you want everything and everyone to be at their best right now.
“For us, we can feel that pressure if we have a couple (players) who are not exactly where they need to be. But what I keep telling her is relax, settle in, you’ll get there, you’ll be fine.”
The Ducks’ freshman class is off to a fine start with third baseman Rachel Cid leading the team with 14 RBIs and shortstop Jasmine Sievers batting .667 in her five games since joining the lineup.
First baseman Hannah Haley (three home runs, nine RBIs) and second baseman Allee Bunker (team-high 12 runs scored) have also been key contributors to the fast start.
“It’s been really great knowing that there’s a lot of freshmen starting and we have a key role to play,” Cid said. “We can’t come out playing like freshmen. We have to play our game and play up to the speed of the game.”
Oregon will play six games over the four-day Mary Nutter Classic, starting at 10 a.m. Thursday against New Mexico State. On Saturday, Lombardi’s team will face Texas A&M and No. 23 Texas Tech.
Utecht, one of the few remaining players from last year’s star-studded Pac-12 championship team, said beating LSU felt like business as usual.
“We didn’t really think of it as a top-10 matchup. We thought of it as a normal game,” Utecht said. “We didn’t think much about it. We just tried to keep calm in that situation and play our game and just do our thing during that game.”