With the turn of the calendar to February it’s that time for the Oregon softball team to head to the sunshine and – as usual – embark on a grueling slate of tournament play. By the time the retooled 2020 Oregon Ducks open their home season at The Jane hosting Seattle on Friday, March 6th the Ducks will have spent a month on the road and seen ports of call from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico to Houston, Texas along with Cathedral City, California with a swing through Stillwater and Tulsa, Oklahoma. As the lady says in that imbecilic commercial…”that’s a lotta miles.”
Along the way second year head coach Melyssa Lombardi will try to fashion a squad that can take concrete steps toward a return to the top of the standings in the Pac-12 conference.
With the trauma and drama of last year now in the rear view mirror all eyes are on the task ahead.
A seasoned core of young players who received a baptism of fire last year will be joined by a highly regarded incoming class of freshman athletes as well as a strategic sprinkling of players who arrived via the transfer portal.
First and foremost of Lombardi’s priorities once the 2019 season came to its merciful end was to bolster the pitching staff. Jordan Dail was in the circle for an insane 248 innings a year ago on her way to an 18-18 record but the numbers do nothing to tell the story. With one other pitcher on the roster – walk on Kailey Kruger – and a handful of position players filling in when necessary, Lonbardi had little choice but to hand Dail the ball.
That won’t be the case in 2020 as Lombardi added a pair of experienced arms via transfer and one rookie.
The new kid is Makenna Kleithermes, a right hander out of Blair Oaks High School in Wardsville, Missouri. With 300 strikeouts in 134.1 innings of work as a senior, Kleithermes posted a 21-2 mark and was the Gatorade Player of the Year for the Show Me state. Oh – she can swing a bat as well… hitting .518 with 28 RBI and three ding-dongs.
Samara Diaz was the WAC Pitcher of the Year for New Mexico State a year ago before finding her way to Eugene. The senior transfer is coming off a 16-9 season for the Aggies, recording 228 strike outs and posting an ERA of 2.10.
The other transfer is southpaw Brooke Yanez – a junior from Ventura, California who was the Big West Pitcher of the Year last season for UC Davis. Ranked fourth in the nation with a 1.03 ERA, Yanez also held opposing batters to a .173 average while fanning 273.
With two right-handers and two left-handers to call upon, Lombardi will be much better able to pitch to the situation in the coming season, something she could only dream of a year ago.
Even as a young team the Ducks were solid defensively last season and that should continue to be the case again in 2020.
Jasmine Sievers will anchor the infield at shortstop and Rachel Cid is likely a fixture at third base. With catcher Terra McGowan now eligible after sitting out last season, Shaye Bowden will move to first and probably spend some time in right field. Haley Cruse is set to return in center and sophomore Hannah Galey should contend for playing time after a promising rookie season.
In addition to Kleithermes at pitcher, Oregon will welcome four incoming freshmen – outfield Deijah Pangilinan, a pair of utility players in Jazzy Contreras and Vallery Wong as well as a local product, infielder Ariel Carlson of Marist High School.
With the pitching shored up and a more than capable defense already in the question then turns to the offense.
It’s not as though the Ducks were without fire power a year ago. Cruse led the team with a .348 batting average with Bowden and Sievers both above .300. Cid and Bowden both offered occasional pop with 16 homeruns between them but no one else returning this season hit more than four. A year’s experience should see those numbers improve to some extent as will the addition of McGowan to the batting order.
Picked by the coaches to finish fifth in the gantlet that is the Pac-12 – it’s apparent that the rest of the conference has taken note of the upgrade in talent the Ducks will field in 2020 after finishing last year with a 22-30 mark.
With all the pieces now assembled all that is left is to start playing the games and that begins today against Utah Valley in sunny Mexico. Oregon will play five games in four days to break the ice.
The Ducks will open the home schedule with the Oregon Tournament beginning March 6th against a field that includes Portland State, Seattle and Loyola Marymount.
After opening conference play at California on Friday, March 13th, the Ducks will host the USA National team and Oregon alum Janie (Takeda) Reed in an exhibition game on Wednesday, March 8th before facing Stanford in the home conference opening series beginning Saturday, March 21st.
~ Rick Morgan