Mark Cooke brushed aside the word "dynasty."
"I just have a bunch of blue-collar, overachieving ballplayers," Winthrop's softball coach said after two losses to No. 14 North Carolina on Wednesday. "They play hard, they work hard, they practice hard, they're coachable, but the thing that they do, they believe in themselves. They believe in each other."
Despite the two losses, Winthrop (30-17, 11-1 Big South Conference) heads to Liberty today in great position. Two wins over the Flames this weekend -- or one win and one Radford loss to Coastal Carolina -- gives the Eagles their second straight BSC regular-season title and third in the past four years.
But Cooke didn't label Winthrop's fantastic recent success a dynasty. He said it was simply a matter of tasting the bright lights of national exposure last year and wanting to repeat it.
"It's just a matter of we want to be at this level and we are at this level," he said. "There may be some teams that are bigger, stronger and faster than us, but we're not intimidated."
"Our main goal was to definitely return and win again and hopefully go further this year," leadoff batter Tessa Thomas said. "We were really close last year and came up shy."
The Eagles tied with Liberty for the regular-season crown last season but blew through the BSC tournament, capturing the title and the program's first NCAA tournament berth. Winthrop got to the championship round of the NCAA Regionals but fell to Tennessee.
Despite losing four starters, Winthrop was expected to win the Big South again this year. After cruising to 11 wins in their first 12 conference games, the Eagles are exactly where they hoped -- or expected -- to be.
"It took us the first two months to adjust and we've done a good job of adjusting and growing up," Cooke said.
Keyed by a pitching staff that is ranked 20th in the country in ERA (1.51), Winthrop is gleefully eyeing the rest of the schedule. After this weekend, the team takes a week and a half off for exams before welcoming the Big South tournament to Rock Hill.
Take care of business this weekend, and the Eagles will have a top seed on their home field for the tournament, setting themselves up for another run-through and another trip to the NCAAs.
"We tied with Liberty last year for regular season so we're really looking forward to going up there, doing our job and winning," pitcher Cari Wooldridge said. "That's hopefully what we'll do."