Eugene- it’s been a fun ride for University of Oregon Softball the last couple seasons, as the Ducks have compiled back-to-back 50 win seasons and Women’s College World Series appearances. That, however, wasn’t enough to keep head coach Mike White from accepting his “dream job” at the University of Texas.
Enter Melyssa Lombardi, the veteran pitching coach from the University of Oklahoma for the last two decades who as pitching coach helped lead the Sooners to National Championships in 2000, 2013, and back-to-back titles in 2016-2017.
Hailing from Glendale Arizona, Lombardi was a catcher for OU from 1995-1996 and led the Sooners in hitting with a batting average of .345 her senior year. She was a 1996 All-Big 12 Second team selection. In 1997 Lombardi transitioned into an undergraduate assistant coach and after earning her degree in Health and Sports Science she moved to full-time coaching. From that point on she covered the next 20 seasons as pitching coach on Patty Gasso’s staff, moving to associate head coach in 2008 where she remained until this past season.
During this tenure she was named to 11 Regional Coaching Staff’s of the year, four NFCA National Coaching Staff’s of the year, and was 2017 NFCA Division 1 Assistant Coach of the year.
The juggernaut Sooners rolled into Eugene this past April the back-to-back National Champions and riding a 30-game winning streak. They were subsequently dismantled by Oregon, with pitcher Megan Kleist throwing a one-hitter in a 5-0 Ducks victory that handed Oklahoma their first road loss in a year. Lombardi was “blown away” by her visit to the sparkling new Jane Sanders Stadium, calling it “the best in the nation.”
Many Duck fans have been looking forward to “The Jane” dawning a National Championship banner sooner (pun intended) than later. The last two seasons Oregon has arrived in the WCWS as a relatively new powerhouse and unfortunately that inexperience has shown at times. In 2017 Oregon repeatedly put runners in scoring position but failed to drive them home in a 3-1 loss to the despised conference-foe Washington Huskies in Oklahoma City. Three days later against Lombardi and the Sooners Oregon broke a scoreless tie in the top of the fifth inning only to suffer a series of defensive breakdowns that led to four runs by Oklahoma in the bottom of the fifth.
It felt like nightmarish Déjà vu last month as Oregon again found itself against Washington in OKC and again a series of miscues in the fifth inning broke open a scoreless game and allowed the Huskies to seize control of a game they eventually won 6-2 after getting swept three straight games in Seattle by the Ducks earlier in the season. Runners stranded on base early on reared its ugly head again in a 4-1 loss to Florida State that sent Oregon packing a day later.
This trend has led to criticism that UO softball tends to get overwhelmed by NCAA Softball’s biggest stage as they appear to approach games with a “survive and advance” mentality rather than an “attack and advance” one. Lombardi, a seasoned veteran coach with multiple National Title experience and 12 WCWS appearances, won’t be intimidated or impressed with this scenario. Instead, she’ll most likely go about it in a “business as usual” sense, expecting to beat whoever the opponent may be and then proceeding to prove the point on the diamond. This kind of mindset should bode well for an Oregon softball team laden with freshmen in its first trip to OKC who will be more experienced, learned upper classmen in 2019. Oregon appears to have had the talent the past two seasons but was lacking the attitude.
Lombardi should solve that problem nicely.