Melyssa Lombardi believes the atmosphere at Jane Sanders Stadium can rival that of any softball venue in the country.
The first-year coach couldn’t help but notice that dozens of fans were headed for the exits when Oregon was trailing Portland State 8-2 in the second game of a long doubleheader on Tuesday night.
What they missed was the shorthanded Ducks refusing to give up, a common theme this season, and Haley Cruse’s thrilling three-run inside-the-park home run to finish an improbable 9-8 comeback victory.
“The reality of us coming back would be tough, but this group in the dugout knew that we needed to just chip away,” Lombardi said after the critical sweep of the Vikings. “We didn’t need (the runs) all at one time, just continue to pass the bat and see what happened. You know what? They were not afraid to lose. That was the difference. They were not afraid to lose.
“They were willing to put it all out there and not care about the outcome. Because if they put it out there, and we didn’t get the outcome, we walk away and go, ‘We did everything we could.’ That’s what I care about the most.”
With a 4-1 record on the current eight-game home stand, the Ducks (21-22, 4-11) are in position to play their way into the NCAA Tournament entering the three-game Civil War series against Oregon State that begins Friday.
The Beavers (21-18, 3-13), who were swept by No. 2 UCLA last weekend in Corvallis, also need a strong finish to secure a spot in the postseason field.
“I know this is a big rivalry between the two schools and I’m excited to be a part of it,” Lombardi said. “It’s going to be a tough battle.”
Oregon will continue to lean on Jordan Dail in the circle. The sophomore lefty threw 20 2/3 scoreless innings against California and grinded out a complete-game win over Portland State in the opener before hitting the wall in the nightcap.
Rachel Cid (third baseman), Cruse (center fielder) and Kailey Krueger (walk-on pitcher) combined for 3 2/3 innings of relief before Dail returned to close out Portland State in the final two innings of the second game.
Dail (17-10, 3.42 ERA) has pitched 198 2/3 innings this season, which is 48 1/3 more than any other player in the Pac-12.
“She’s throwing everything she has for us, and I’m not expecting her to be 100 percent,” catcher Shaye Bowden said of Dail, who allowed 15 hits and seven runs over 10 1/3 innings on Tuesday. “She gave us 100 percent of what she had. I don’t think it was anything wrong with her pitches. I think it honestly was she was trying to do the best she could for us and it wasn’t falling in her favor.
“We had to pick her up and adjust to the fact that she wasn’t on.”
Oregon’s offense, which has faced many of the nation’s top pitchers this season, has been more balanced lately.
Cruse is batting .429 with two home runs and 12 runs scored since being moved back to the leadoff spot 15 games ago. Bowden hit two home runs on Tuesday and leads the team with 28 RBIs.
Cherish Burks had a key two-run home run before Cruse’s dramatic home run. Freshman Allee Bunker is batting .469 over the last 15 games, and freshman Jasmine Sievers leads the team in doubles (13) and extra-base hits (18).
“I think what you’re starting to see is some of these guys really settle in and feel comfortable with their swing, feel comfortable with what they’re doing at the plate and be free,” Lombardi said.
The Ducks, who play at Utah next weekend before closing the regular season at against Arizona State at the Jane, must go at least 5-4 over the final three series to qualify for the postseason.
“We needed to walk away with two (wins over Portland State). We know what’s at stake and what we’re trying to do at the end of the season,” Lombardi said. “To me, everything these guys have gone through all year and continuing to fight, even when things aren’t going our way they fought and fought. I think that prepared them for the battle that we had.”