Melyssa Lombardi’s peers aren’t expecting the Oregon softball team to put up much of a fight in defense of last yer’s Pac-12 championship.
The depleted Ducks (11-10) enter conference play on a six-game losing skid and the program’s streak of appearing in the USA Today/NFCA top-25 rankings ended this week after appearing in 139 consecutive polls.
Oregon, which had nine players leave during the coaching transition, was picked to finish last in the Pac-12 preseason coaches poll.
Lombardi expects the Ducks to come out swinging when conference play begins against No. 12 Arizona at 6 p.m. Friday in Tucson.
“We continue the fight,” Lombardi said. “That has been the foundation of our program is we know how to fight. I think it’s them putting their experience that they’ve gained together as a group and using it to their advantage.”
Oregon opened the Lombardi era 6-0, including an 8-5 win over then-No. 8 LSU, but was unable to generate enough offense in losses to No. 23 Texas Tech (5-0), No. 3 Florida (2-1) and No. 22 Auburn (8-0).
After losing 3-0 by Oklahoma State in the home opener a week ago, the Ducks’ bats came to life during 7-6 an 9-6 losses to the Cowgirls at Jane Sanders Stadium.
“Right now we’re just trusting the process,” freshman second baseman Allee Bunker said. “We’ve been told, and we keep telling ourselves, this is all just part of the plan. We’ve got to get through this in order to get to the best part of the season. We haven’t hit our highest point yet, and I think this is a good learning lesson for us going forward.
“Facing better pitching these last couple weekends is really going to help us prepare for Pac-12 play.”
The Wildcats (18-7) have one of the more powerful lineups in the country, led by Jessie Harper (13 home runs) and Dejah Mulipola (10 home runs).
Arizona ace Taylor McQuillin has a 1.73 earned-run average with 103 strikeouts in 81 innings pitched. Oregon’s Jordan Dail is third in the nation in innings pitched (96 2/3) and 11th in strikeouts.
“If I have to throw every inning for the rest of the season, that’s fine,” Dail said when asked how her left arm is feeling. “I’ll find a way to do it. That’s the whole point of being an athlete is you’ve got to play and just grind it out.”
Oregon’s conference opener will not be televised but both the 2 p.m. Saturday and noon Sunday games will air on the Pac-12 Networks.