The Oregon Ducks 2022 softball season really began at the end of the 2021 season, in the brave new world that affects all of collegiate sports at the end of any season: the transfer portal. The 2021 Duck softball team had a solid record and endured a disappointing post season placement only to get eliminated by Mike White and his Texas squad, ending the season with a 40-17 record. After the end of the season, Oregon saw the departure of Alyssa Brito, Jazzy Contreras, and Mya Felder by way of the transfer portal. It’s a modern reality that coaches in all sports have to contend with, and all coaches are having to adapt to this new wrinkle in recruiting.
In the off-season, the Ducks picked up catcher Karisa Ornelas and infielder KK Humphreys. Both would make solid contributions in the coming season. The transfer portal giveth as well as taketh, and coach Melyssa Lombardi used the portal to add solid pieces for the upcoming season.
Oregon also had some newcomers in the coaching staff. Sam Marder came to the staff to work primarily with the hitting game. One of the best Duck softball players in the program’s history, Nikki Ragan, was also added to the coaching staff. Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza was added as a volunteer assistant coach. The Ducks would see virtually an entire assistant coach reset in 2022.
Oregon opened the 2022 season ranked #17, and then suffered their first setback of 2022, when ace pitcher Brooke Yanez announced that she would be sitting out the season to recuperate from a medical injury. The Ducks would feel the tremors from that (absolutely necessary) decision for the entirety of the 2022 season. Unlike baseball, which requires a solid room of (ace) starting pitchers, softball teams can get away with one ace and very solid backups. Yanez’s need to sit out 2022 would impact the entire season.
In the first two weeks of the season, Oregon looked promising; however, the Mary Nutter Classic was earmarked by ATQ as a barometer of sorts, because the Ducks would be vying against eventual #16 Missouri and #18 Northwestern. Oregon dropped both games, and established a pattern that would be repeated throughout the season - namely, the inability to prevail over top-25 competition. Nevertheless, Oregon softball performed well in late February and into March, with solid defense and bats that could put up serious scores.
In particular, freshman pitcher Stevie Hansen was put in the unenviable spot of being the Duck ace. For the most part, for the entire season, Hansen pitched very well despite her youth and looks to be the future ace, even as she is probably looking at being #2 behind Yanez next season. Hansen will still be that solid, complete backup that any starting pitcher needs; that the Ducks will need. She admirably survived a 2022 trial-by-fire and rose to the occasion. Oregon softball pitching in 2023 appears to be everything that it didn’t quite step up to be in 2022.
The Ducks then entered a curious parallel season with their baseball counterparts. After an acceptable start to the season, followed by promising initial series against Pac-12 competition, Oregon slumped into an awful April. Yes, in softball the Pac-12 is arguably one of the - if not THE - toughest conferences, top-to-bottom. Yes, Oregon softball was stomped by #3 UCLA, #16 ASU, #25 Arizona, and #11 Washington. Yes, Oregon played some close contests against top-25 opponents; but when the Ducks pitching could not hold back these opponents and they found themselves in a hole, there was no confidence that Oregon could use their bats to get back in the game. You knew they had no chance, and the offensive performance of the Ducks earned them that perception...time and time again. They earned it by dropping 11 of 13 games in April’s first three weeks.
Oregon softball mirrored Oregon baseball: the pitching - while seemingly very good in the non-conference season - was not spectacular. When the conference season set and the pitching failed, the Ducks could not buttress the pitching with runs, and Oregon lost.
Softball continued to revolve in the Diamond Ducks parallel universe by ending the conference portion of the season on a strong note. It primarily came from the improved performance of starting pitching - in the case of softball, from pitcher Makenna Kliethermes - and brought hope to a positive showing in the post-season. Oregon won the final two series against Oregon State and Stanford very much on the solid showing by Kliethermes.
The Ducks entered the tournament portion of their season in an acceptable spot, given their very awful April. They won their contests against Wichita State, but their record showed that they were not going to overcome a top-25 team, and they dropped both contests against #4 Arkansas.
It was a disappointing end to a subjectively disappointing season, with Oregon finishing at 33-19. There’s possible cause for concern about coach Lombardi’s steering of the Duck ship in year four. It’s a subject that ATQ has addressed in podcasts; however, Slurms Mac Court pointed out that Lombardi’s tenure has been hampered by the Covid pandemic, and that the normal 4-year bellweather is probably not applicable with Oregon because of Covid disruptions. If that is to be taken as the case, then the 2023 season will be the telling tale for Melyssa Lombardi. Lombardi has been able to recruit solid talent. She and her coaching staff will need to translate that into a successful 2023 season where the Achilles heel of pitching is not an excuse for a disappointing season.