Photo by Andrew Giesemann

Ducks Erupt in Opener

February 8, 2019

Special Contribution from Chris Tracy (NoClue2017)

Melyssa Lombardi and the Oregon Ducks kicked off the 2019 softball season Friday at the Kajikawa Classic in Arizona.

Everyone knows of the off-season turmoil that saw the team lose nine players from last year's No. 1-ranked squad, but the remaining players and newcomers were ready to put that all behind them and play ball. They came ready for a fight, and charged out the gates swinging.

Lone returning starter Haley Cruse had a lead-off single, and soon the Ducks had the bases loaded on the way to scoring twice on an RBI single from senior outfielder Cherish Burks. The Ducks would score runs in every inning: 2 in the first; 3 in the second; 1 each in the third, fourth and fifth; 2 in the sixth; and capped by a 4-run seventh to seal the 14-5 win.

On the mound, sophomore Jordan Dail made her first start for the Ducks, and she was ready. She was perfect until the fourth, when she gave up a single up the middle and a walk and Kansas was able to plate a run. But Dail was able to battle back and get out of the inning.

The Virginia Tech transfer pitched into the sixth, but that’s when fatigue appeared to settle in and she started leaving the pitches over the plate. After giving up a pair of two-run homers and letting Kansas cut the lead to 10-5, Lombardi made a pitching change. Sophomore transfer Maddie MacGrandle performed very well, ending the sixth and taking Kansas down in order in the seventh to close out the game.

Things that stood out

Offense: As was observed in the fall, the approach at the plate is entirely different than it used to be. Justin Shults is the hitting coach, and he has the Ducks much more aggressive at the plate. That’s not to say they are swinging at everything; they just seem to have more awareness at the plate. They drew 10 walks over the 7 innings, while also having zero strikeouts! Regardless of level of competition, those are impressive numbers.

They also wasted very few at-bats, plate appearance that had little chance of helping base runners move over. Almost all the outs were put in play, forcing the defense to work.

Defense and Pitching: The fielders weren’t called upon that much, because the pitching was pretty good, and four Kansas runs scored on homers. There were some flashes of leather, double-play attempts, and a great diving grab in left from Cherish Burks, but for the most part it was pitcher vs batter, and this game Dail won.

Dail recorded 10 Ks thru 5 2/3 innings and only had 2 walks. She did give up 2 homers late in the game, but she was visibly fatigued and I’ll put that on coaches as much as the fact that she is working back into form. (Dail is coming off a pretty bad knee injury that restricted the amount of training she could do, so as the season goes on she should build her stamina).

The pitching from Dail was very promising. She had really good movement and when she was missing the zone she seemed to make sure it was away from the batters. She also seemed to exude confidence, which is nice; she’s ready for the big stage and pressure it seems.

MacGrandle came in in relief and she pitched really well, too. She didn’t have the confidence that Dail displayed, but she was able to execute the pitches as called and set down all four batters she faced.

Rachel Cid played like the All-American/Freshman of the Year player I believe she will be. Her bat was on fire: 3 for 3 with a homer, 2 walks, and 4 RBI. She also flashed some of her defensive skills, in limited chances.

Hannah Galey might have beat out Cid for game MVP. In the fall she had several mental errors and base-running mistakes, coupled with taking bad at-bats. I wasn’t sure what to expect from her to start the season, and I have to say I’ve never been happier to be wrong.

Galey didn’t have a good first at-bat, but she ended the day 3 for 5, with 2 homers and 5 RBI. She played first base pretty well, too, keeping some poor throws from getting away.

What to look for

The Ducks were obviously ready to put the off-season behind them and show what they have to offer, not what was missing. Based on the first game, they are going to be able to fight this season. The pitching will be the keystone for how well the team plays. There were several promising signs the pitching might be ready, but then there were moments of doubt.

One thing really stood out. Even when they were in situations you would call struggling, they didn’t have the body language to go along with it. Sort of like last year, the team seemed to not really care in those moments, because they were supremely confident they would come back if needed. That is a veteran trait from such a very young team.

Five freshmen started against the Jayhawks, and they will continue to be called upon this year. The season is going to be full of good competition, and that’s before league games even start -- and the level of play dials up from good to great.

There is no way to know for sure how this team will perform moving forward, but all signs indicate that regardless of outside noise and distractions, they are ready to play for each other, for the program, and for the fans. And after one game, they are just as good as last year's team: starting the season 1-0.

Follow the games on the game threads, then chime in and get any answers you may have from the many knowledgeable fans that ScoopDuck is lucky to have.

Tags: Oregon
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