The Winthrop softball team opens the 2011 season this weekend in Columbia at the Palmetto State Showdown.
The Lady Eagles play Furman at 10:30 a.m. Friday and will take on Charleston Southern on Saturday before winding up with Coastal Carolina and USC Upstate on Sunday.
Winthrop lost its top two starting pitchers - Cari Wooldridge and Megan Evans - from a year ago. Those two won 27 of the Lady Eagles 28 games last season. Senior Ashleigh Jackson and freshman Natalie Becker are expected to carry the load this season.
Coach Mark Cooke returns Veronica Berrie, Megan Chapman, Jackson, Lauren Levin, Kelly Blea, Taylor Wright and Chelsey Schoenfeldt from a team that finished third in the Big South Conference in 2010. Jackson led the team with five home runs and 22 RBIs. Wright hit three homers and drove in 21. Chapman also hit three long balls and had 20 RBIs.
Cooke has added six freshman. He went back to Canada, where he has had a lot of success over the years, to get Becker. Outfielder McKenzi Corn (Mauldin), first baseman Lauren Beaver (Lexington), infielder Alex White (Columbia) and utility player Paige Hartfield (Blythewood) are all from South Carolina.
Winthrop's first home game is March 2 when the Lady Eagles host South Carolina in 5 p.m. game at Terry Field.
RECORD BREAKER -- Senior Devin Gist upped his school record in the 35-pound weight throw for the fourth time this season at the Niswonger Invitational at East Tennessee State last weekend.
Gist's heave of 16.76 meters increased his school record by 4 feet and was good for a seventh-place finish.
Sharrone Honor finished third in the women's collegiate championship 60m hurdles with a time of 9.27 seconds. Jeanne Stroud ran a personal best in the 5,000 meters in 18:06.18 to claim sixth place. Adam Leroux ran 1:55.16 to finish sixth in the invitational 800 meter run and AJ Fitzsimmons ran a strong 8:50.07 for second in the collegiate 3,000 meter run.
"This is always a large and lengthy meet. Our athletes ran well for being spread out over two 12- hour days," Winthrop coach Ben Paxton said. "This should be a good mental tune-up for our Big South Championships in a couple of weeks."
The Eagles will be in action this weekend at the Akron Invitational. The meet will bring in top competition from the Mid-American and the Big Ten conferences.
ON THE TUBE -- ESPNU, the 24-hour college sports network, will televise two Big South Conference spring sports contest this season, while ESPN3.com will carry the league's baseball and softball championship games for the first time.
ESPNU will air the April 2 Liberty at Coastal Carolina baseball game live, as well as the Liberty at Winthrop softball game live from Winthrop's Terry Field at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 3.
Each sport's championship game will receive television exposure for the first time in the same season. It will be the first broadcast of the softball championship game, which will be at noon on May 14.
It is just the second time that baseball's championship day will be televised. Carolinas Sports Entertainment Television (C-SET) aired the first of two championship games in 2005. The 2011 baseball title game will be at 1 p.m. on May 28.
This will be the first time that ESPNU will televise a Liberty-Winthrop softball game.
BASEBALL ON THE HORIZON -- Winthrop baseball and first-year coach Tom Riginos opens the season on Feb. 18 in San Diego. The Eagles home opener is Feb. 25 against Wagner in the Johnny Gill Memorial tournament.
College baseball is using a new type of bat this season as a safety measure. Winthrop has redesigned its baseball caps, replacing the "W" with a "WU". The marketing department is using the slogan "New bats, new hats, new coach, new season" to get ready for the season.