Why Oregon coach Melyssa Lombardi's return to OU softball roots is 'pretty special'

NORMAN — Late evenings in early summer weren’t unusual to OU softball’s starting pitchers and catchers during Melyssa Lombardi’s tenure as the program’s pitching coach.

During the Women’s College World Series, no matter the time, Lombardi frequently called the group into her hotel room for film sessions on opponents’ hitters to prepare for the following day’s game. Lombardi had her routine and she stuck with it.

Former OU ace Keilani Ricketts remembers Lombardi’s decision to start Michelle Gascoigne in Game 2 of the 2013 WCWS finals against Tennessee, despite Ricketts’ 13-strikeout performance in Game 1, as one of the smartest moves by a coach in recent memory. Ricketts was the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year in 2013 and Lombardi started Gascoigne to clinch the program’s second title.

“That just shows how great of a pitching coach she was,” Ricketts told The Oklahoman “For our last three years, it was mostly just me starting every single postseason game. But especially in that 2013 season, knowing that (Gascoigne) was the better matchup against Tennessee, that was really big for our success in that game.”

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OU alum and Oregon softball coach Melyssa Lombardi returns to Norman as the No. 2 seed, potentially setting up a regional semifinal against the Sooners.
OU alum and Oregon softball coach Melyssa Lombardi returns to Norman as the No. 2 seed, potentially setting up a regional semifinal against the Sooners.

Lombardi’s attention to detail stems from her playing days as a catcher at OU and helped her lead the Sooners to four national championship wins as a 22-year assistant under head coach Patty Gasso. Now Oregon’s head coach, Lombardi leads the Ducks into the Norman Regional this weekend as the No. 2 seed facing third-seeded Boston University on Friday, potentially setting up a regional semifinal against her alma mater.

The Terriers aren’t an easy first game for the Ducks as they boast the best winning percentage nationally with a 52-4-1 record. But Oregon played far superior competition in the Pac-12 and owns the higher seed, increasing the odds of pitting Gasso and Lombardi against each other on Saturday.

The place Lombardi called home for most of her life will look a bit different this time around. She has yet to visit Love’s Field, OU’s $48 million palace and the country’s largest on-campus softball stadium that her success helped build.

“I think that's probably what I'm looking forward to the most, just getting the opportunity to see the new stadium in person,” Lombardi told The Oklahoman. “The stadium is very overdue and so I'm glad that we finally got it. I played at Reaves Park. So when Marita Hynes was built, it was so exciting to see that stadium and then now to see the new Love’s stadium. It's overdue and so deserving.

“Coach has worked extremely hard to build the powerhouse that she has built.”

When Ricketts saw the NCAA Tournament bracket Sunday, her first thought was that her former pitching coach would get the chance to coach at Love’s Field. Former Sooners star Sydney Romero is also returning as a first-year assistant on Lombardi’s Ducks staff.

It’s going to be surreal for Ricketts to watch her former head coach and pitching coach battle.

“I hope that she's able to get the welcome back that she deserves from the fans,” Ricketts said. “I know that Sooners fans always show love to alumni when they come back. She played for the program and she helped win quite a few national championships, so I'm just excited to see the welcome she gets from everyone.”

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Lombardi had a front-row seat to Gasso’s construction of a dynasty. Gasso and Lombardi have shared countless moments together over the years and Saturday will potentially be another story they can tell during their family gatherings.

“I think of just the years that we've spent together,” Lombardi said. “We always laugh at just some of the things that we've shared, our experiences with our families. Our families are very close and to be able to have those memories on and have them off the field has been awesome. Coach Gasso has just been unbelievable, she is a big reason I am the person that I am today.”

In her sixth season at Oregon, Lombardi holds a 183-104 record and has led the Ducks to four regionals, including a super-regional appearance last season.

“She's been able to take what she helped build at OU and what she learned from Coach Gasso and the program and she's done a great job at Oregon,” Ricketts said. “It’s been awesome to be able to follow the success of Oregon. My teammates and I love still rooting for Coach Lombardi and what she's been able to do there.”

When Lombardi leads her team onto Love’s Field on Friday, it won’t be like any other game.

She’ll zero in on the same details that helped her former Sooners pitchers prepare those years in her hotel room. But while coaching in front of a stadium that holds 4,200 fans, she’ll also reminisce about her playing days at Reaves Park.

“(OU) has obviously changed,” Lombardi said. “I think about how much that program has evolved from where it started and where it has ended up. That’s pretty special for me.”

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Norman Regional schedule

Double elimination from Friday-Sunday (May 17-19) at Love's Field in Norman:

Friday's games

  • Game 1: Oregon vs. Boston University, 4:30 p.m. CT (ESPN+)

  • Game 2: No. 2 Oklahoma vs. Cleveland State, 7 p.m. CT (ESPNU)

Saturday's games

  • Game 3: Winner of Game 1 vs. Winner of Game 2, 2 p.m. CT

  • Game 4: Loser of Game 1 vs. Loser of Game 2, 4:30 p.m. CT

  • Game 5: Loser of Game 3 vs. Winner of Game 4, 7 p.m. CT

Sunday's games

  • Game 6: Winner of Game 3 vs. Winner of Game 5, TBD

  • *-Game 7: Winner of Game 6 vs. Loser of Game 6, TBD

*-if necessary

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: OU softball alum Melyssa Lombardi returns for NCAA Norman Regional