Melyssa Lombardi will face an old rival during her home debut as the Oregon softball coach.
After competing at four tournaments in three different states during the first month of the season, the 24th-ranked Ducks (11-7) host No. 19 Oklahoma State on at 6 p.m. Friday at Jane Sanders Stadium.
Lombardi, a longtime assistant at Oklahoma, is trying to get her young team to return to its early-season form after losses to No. 3 Florida, Cal State Fullerton and No. 22 Auburn last week.
“When we’ve had some troubles, I think it’s just these guys pressing a little bit,” said Lombardi, who has leaned on five freshmen to fill holes created by the mass exodus of stars during the coaching transition. “But with age and with experience, that will come. I think the freshmen, obviously being the youngest ones on the team, have handled things really well.”
Oregon opened the Lombardi era with six consecutive wins, including an upset of then-No. 8 LSU, before losing its last five games against ranked opponents.
The Cowgirls (15-5) have wins over Kentucky and Arizona State and losses to LSU and Arizona. Samantha Show is 5-2 with a 2.06 earned-run average in the circle and is hitting .323 with six home runs and 22 RBIs.
Jordan Dail (9-3, 2.37 ERA) is the Ducks’ new ace after the departures of Miranda Elish, Megan Kleist and Maggie Balint. The Virginia Tech transfer is 10th nationally in strikeouts (88) and second in innings pitched (88 2/3).
Shaye Bowden, who is hitting .353 with 14 RBIs, has established herself as a reliable catcher for Lombardi, which was an area of concern after Mary Iakopo transferred and Terra McGowan was not granted her release by Arizona State.
Lombardi is hoping a week of practices and sleeping in their own beds will help the Ducks get back on the winning track in the final series before the Pac-12 grind begins next weekend at No. 12 Arizona.
“I’m so excited to actually be able to play in front of all the fans because everyone says we have one of the best atmospheres here at the Jane,” said freshman shortstop Jasmine Sievers, who leads the team in batting average (.359) and doubles (three). “So getting to hear the crowd and actually play there, I’m really excited and I know everyone else is, too.”
The players presented Lombardi with a game ball from her first Oregon win this week.
“It’s been a crazy year for her and for all of us,” said junior center fielder Haley Cruse, who emerged as a leader after nine players from last year’s Pac-12 championship team left the program. “It’s nice to just have those moments to really show that we’re a family and to support each other because I know we all really support her and she support us.”
Now the Ducks, who are also scheduled to play Oklahoma State twice Saturday, are focused on delivering Lombardi her first win at Jane Sanders Stadium against her old rival.
“For them to give me that ball was very, very special,” Lombardi said. “You can see this team, with the adversity and everything we’ve dealt with, you can see how we’ve really come together and bonded and just all of us together have a very special relationship. I want to see these guys do great things in the field, do great things in the classroom. …
“It touched my heart.”
2019 Jane Sanders opener
No. 24 Oregon vs. No. 19 Oklahoma State, 6 p.m.
No. 24 Oregon vs. No. 19 Oklahoma State, noon and 2 p.m.
Note: All three games will be streamed live at GoDucks.com/live and will be broadcast by KWVA (88.1 FM). Saturday’s games are also available on the Pac-12 Plus Facebook page.