It will be hard to fill the void left by former Oregon softball head coach Mike White, but new-hire Melyssa Lombardi has a pedigree that might propel the Ducks into the national championship.
During her 21 years as Oklahoma’s pitching coach, Lombardi coached two USA softball pitchers-of-the-year and four national championship teams. She knows what it takes to win.
“The most important thing is to win and that [the pitchers] find a way to pick each other up,” Lombardi said. “If I have someone starting and they’re struggling a little bit, that the other one comes in and says ‘I got you. No problem. I’m going to get this done for you. I’m going to get this done for our team.’”
Lombardi’s first job will be to get the pitchers to buy into her distribution of innings, based on who she feels can win each inning for her team. Although she is inheriting three true aces in Megan Kleist (21-7 and a 1.32 ERA), Miranda Elish (25-2 and a 1.20 ERA) and Maggie Balint (7-1 and a 2.11 ERA), it shouldn’t be a problem to get them to buy in.
“You think of softball, what do you think of? You think of pitching,” Lombardi said. “To have three number ones, you can go a long way with three number ones.”
Although all three pitchers have excelled mostly as starters in their careers, they do have some experience out of the bullpen. Balint has the most career relief appearances with 22, while having the same number reliefs as Elish last season with eight. Kleist has 16 in her career.
“One thing I want them to understand right from the start is don’t get caught up in numbers and innings and all that, get caught up in ‘What do we need from you in order to win the game?’” Lombardi said. “So if somebody starts and I need another to come in and close, and maybe get one out. That one out is just as huge as the 6 and 2/3 innings that the other one threw.”
Lombardi is familiar with dominant staffs. At Oklahoma, she coached one of the best of all time, winning national championships in 2016 and 2017. In 2018, starting pitchers Paige Parker (31-3 with a 0.82 ERA) and Mariah Lopez (14-0 with a 1.56 ERA) and relief-ace Paige Lowary (10-2 with a 1.09 ERA) helped Oklahoma lead the NCAA with a 1.12 ERA.
“I think that’s really important that we brought in somebody who’s really good with pitching, catching, knowing the game and just having a résumé like she has,” Kleist said. “That way it keeps girls not only for this year, but years on.”
Although it will be hard at first to move on from the Mike White era, Lombardi seems to be the right coach to not only carry on that legacy, but further it.
“I think to get to Oklahoma City, you’ve got to have great athletes and they’ve got to be able to work together and understand the season,” Lombardi said. “To me, usually the last team that’s standing is the team that really knows how to be mentally tough.”
Follow Maverick Pallack on Twitter @mavpallack