By JOEL COLEMAN
As the 2011 season gets underway today at the Eupora Classic, Starkville High softball coach Mimi Milling has a special feeling about the fate of her current team of Lady Yellowjackets.
It's not necessarily any one aspect of her squad's game that has Milling expecting big things, it's all about their demeanor.
"I see a group of girls that want it," said Milling. "Their heart is their strength. People say heart can't win ballgames. Yes it can. With our talent, yes it can."
After a six-win campaign last year demonstrated the progress of the SHS softball program, Milling simply believes this go around, her team is hungry for more success.
That much was evident last weekend when the Lady Jackets traveled to Eupora and faced the seemingly always skilled Lady Eagles in a preseason jamboree.
One year after Eupora easily put away Starkville 21-2 in exhibition action, Milling's Lady Jackets demonstrated that the gap between the two schools appears to have shrunk, losing just 9-2 last Saturday to the Lady Eagles.
"We showed vast improvement," said Milling. "The girls are playing great. They have so much talent. I just think it will really come around this season."
Aside from talent, this year's Lady Jackets boast experience. Eight seniors are a part of this year's Starkville roster including team captain and starting centerfielder Ty Ringo, as well as co-captains T'Keyia Davis and Shanice Campbell.
"It's pretty much the same people that played last year," said Milling. "We've moved some people around but it's pretty much the same core girls."
Amongst her octet of skilled upperclassmen, Milling says it is Jonissa Buchanan who has become somewhat of an emotional leader for the team.
"Everyone looks to (Buchanan)," said Milling. "I tell her if you're up, everybody's up. If you're down, everybody's down. It revolves around her. I don't know how or why, but it does. Wherever she's at on that day, that's where everybody's at."
Though most positions are anchored by seniors, freshman Jadee Sexton will once again be looked to for contributions from the pitching circle.
Sexton saw plenty of duty last season as just an eighth grader, and will be half of Starkville's mound presence this year, splitting duty with senior Tierra Tillman.
Sexton and Tillman have a pair of batterymates, as Milling said the Lady Jackets will have both freshman Sasha Shurden and sophomore Courtney Hollis spending time at catcher.
Around the diamond, Milling plans to primarily use senior Shareda Brown at first base, Campbell at second, Buchanan at shortstop, sophomore D'kyra Robinson at third, a duo of Davis and freshman Shanele Johnson sharing time in left field, Ringo in centerfield and senior Reonee Clark in right field.
No matter who is on the field, Milling says her team will be facing much stiffer competition than they did a season ago.
"We're playing teams like Caledonia and Meridian," said Milling. "We've got a ton of tough teams on the schedule this year. But I think we can do it. I honestly see this team making it to the playoffs."
Starkville's road to the postseason begins today against a familiar foe – Eupora.
First pitch is slated for 10 a.m.
The Lady Jackets will also battle Winona at noon.
SHS hosts its home opener Tuesday against Caledonia.
Milling hopes all of the early-season games serve as the start of a memorable campaign.
"If we'll play like they know how to play, we're going to be somebody to reckon with," said Milling.