ATHENS -- Lilli Backes is pitching Georgia’s softball team into the SEC tournament starting May 7th. The junior transfer from North Carolina has asserted herself as one of Georgia’s pivotal players by leading the team to 14 wins and a 2.20 ERA. Backes is a Georgia native who played at Starr’s Mill High School in Peachtree City, GA where she won a state championship title in 2021. Here, Backes talks about adapting her game to her new conference and managing the pressure of being a top-five ranked team.

Q: Being ranked sixth in the nation, how have you and your team been managing expectations and pressure to perform?

A: It’s a lot of pressure, but I think we’re reminded often that if we continue to do the right things, outcomes will come and go. But if we continue to do what we’re doing, it will all work out how it’s supposed to be.

Q: Is there anything your team has rallied around this season?

A: We’ve talked about the word Ubuntu this season, which is like, I am because we are. Basically we make each other better by being the best version of ourselves. So that’s been a big word for our team this year.

Q: Now you’re going to be playing three top-25 ranked teams to close out this regular season. What are you looking to get out of those games besides winning?

A: I mean we’ve kind of hit a lull recently, but these next few weeks are really big for us to build momentum going into the SEC tournament and postseason.

Q: And talking about recently, the last three series have all gone to a third game to decide the series. Have there been any adjustments or things talked about to lead to more success in those final crucial games?

A: Yeah, I mean, we’ve gone into that final game every weekend and it’s a long season and it’s tough to play a team three times in the SEC. You know, we just continue to talk about doing the right things and to figure it out. We just are trying to figure out different ways to be the best version of ourselves and win.

Q: Last season when you were on the Tar Heels you made the all ACC Tournament team. What did that experience teach you?

A: I got so much experience pitching in the ACC and I feel like that has given me confidence when I switched over to Georgia and played in the SEC.

Q: Did you notice any differences in the gameplay between the two conferences?

A: The competition is definitely better in the SEC. Every weekend you’re playing a ranked opponent, which is probably the biggest difference. As a pitcher, the hitters are just a lot better, which, it’s been a little bit of an adjustment, but it’s been good.

Q: How have you managed to come into this team and find your voice throughout the season?

A: I think as the season has gone on I’ve kind of found my role on the team and that’s been more defined for me. So that’s just something I’m still working on, but I feel confident in our whole staff, our coaches and our whole team.

Q: As someone who is from Georgia, how does it feel playing for Georgia softball?

A: I mean, playing for Georgia was my dream as a kid. So being able to come home and play my last two seasons here is a dream come true for me to play in front of my family and my friends every weekend.

Q: You’ve had plenty of individual success up into this point in your career. Has that been something that you have felt and celebrated?

A: Yeah, I’ve had some successes. I mean, I’ve had a lot of failures, too. So I think that it’s just been a learning experience for me. I think that there’s a lot more success that we’re gonna see this season and I’m excited to see how the rest of the season goes.

Blake Caviness is a student in the undergraduate sports media certificate program at the University of Georgia’s Carmical Sports Media Institute.