Softball begins season as OVC favorite

The reigning OVC softball tournament champions are set to hit the diamond for the first time Friday in Starkville, Mississippi.

The Golden Eagles are predicted to place first in the OVC this season after finishing last season with a 33-28 overall record and making it to the NCAA Women’s College World Series after winning the OVC Tournament. Head coach Bonnie Bynum said she is preparing her team for the added pressure of being ranked No. 1.

“I think it always puts pressure on a team when things are expected of them,” Bynum said. “We have explained to them that pressure is a privilege and should be seen that way. We also know that we will be getting every opponent's best game, and we need to be prepared for that.”

Junior pitcher Danielle Liberatore said the team is learning how to handle the added pressure.

“Knowing we're picked to win the OVC does put extra pressure on the team,” Liberatore said. “The other day one of our coaches said how the pressure is a privilege because it means we've done great things. If we weren't successful then there would be no pressure. So there is pressure, but it's a great thing and a compliment.”

Coach Bynum has high expectations for her team this season, but doesn’t want them to look too far ahead.

“Our goals are to win a conference championship, get back to post season, and make sure we have focus every day at practice and during games,” Bynum said. “I'm not sure there are any games that we consider bigger than the other. Obviously we are excited about starting conference play, but we are going to take it one game at a time and make sure we approach each game with the same mentality and focus.”

Liberatore said she is ready to get the season started.

“Offseason can be nice for a little bit but after a while you really miss actually playing games,” Liberatore said. “I think any athlete will tell you their favorite part of the sport is actually getting to play it. When you're practicing for weeks on end you definitely get impatient and excited. I think the whole team is ready to hit the ground running and continue what we did last year.”

The Golden Eagles have 21 home games scheduled for the 2016 season and are looking to build on what they accomplished last season.

“Our team is great this year and we've really added a lot of talent on top of what we had last year,” Liberatore said. “We're looking for a successful season and to make our way into conference play. We have a target on our back this year and we're ready to take it even further than we did last season.”

The first home game for the Golden Eagles is Saturday, March 12 at 11 a.m. against Kennesaw State.