BENTONVILLE (KFSM) - Watch a Bentonville softball practice, and you’ll notice there’s a certain discipline and structure to everything. That’s very much by design, says head coach Kent Early.
"You have to have a routine, and you have to have fundamentals, because when you get in pressure situations, you always come back to what you do on a daily basis."
After winning the school’s first softball state championship last year, the team finds themselves in those pressure situations more and more. Payton Wildeman, a senior, puts it this way.
"Everyone’s put to get us now, kind of, and we won last year so now we’re kind of the team to beat, and so it puts a lot more pressure on us"
Pitcher Madison Prough, feels the pressure that outsiders put on the program.
"Everyone's got all these high expectations for us because last year we came out and won, so you know they expect us to do it again."
The team deals with the pressure in a multitude of ways. Practices are more intense this year, with more consequences for mistakes. They've also watched the movie Friday Night Lights repeatedly as a team, and the inspirational final speech blares fro the speakers occasionally during batting practice.
They frequently recall the experience of last year. Having been there before can at times be a sort of double edged sword, but the experience does have its benefits, says Early.
"It does help in these situations knowing that you have been there, but then again there’s also added pressure on top of that, and that’s something that we’ve tried to mentally prepare for all season long."
Megan Crownover, a sophomore, reflects on how last year's tournament bleeds into this season.
"I think it helps with the nerves, because you know what to expect now, but at the same time we go out every game and we have to play like it’s our last."
Of course, with the state tournament starting this weekend, every game might actually be their last, a fact coach Early impresses on the team often.
"Every team ends their season with loss, and you know there’s only gonna be one team in our division that doesn’t and we just hope it’s us."
And Early ensures that whether it's at Bentonville, Fayetteville or Bogle Park, you can count on that same structured, winning routine to show up
"It makes you feel comfortable cause it is your routine and so every place feels like home."
The Tigers will play the winner of Conway and Bentonville West Friday in the 7A state tournament in Fayetteville.